Episode 108: Angela B. Sharing Her Recovery as an Atheist in AA

Today’s episode features a recording of a talk given by Angela B. from the Atheists, Agnostics, and All Others Group in Boise, Idaho. Speaking at the Saturday Night Live Speaker Meeting in Boise on December 28, 2018, Angela shares her recovery story and how she experiences the 12 steps of Alcoholics Anonymous as an atheist.

Transcript

00:00 John S: This is episode 108 of AA Beyond Belief: The Podcast.

[music]

00:24 John S: For this episode, we’ll be doing something a little different. We will be featuring a recording of a talk given by Angela B. from the Atheists, Agnostics, and All Others group in Boise, Idaho. Angela spoke at the Saturday Night Live Speaker Meeting in Boise and was kind enough to send me the recording of her talk. I thought it was an excellent presentation, so I asked her if I could post it as a podcast, and she agreed. Thank you very much, Angela.

In her talk, Angela shares her story and takes us through all 12 steps as she experiences them as an atheist. This was perhaps one of the best talks that I’ve heard about how to work the steps as a secular person in AA. So, here’s Angela B. speaking at the Saturday Night Live Speakers Meeting in Boise, Idaho, on December 28th, 2018.

01:12 Angela B: Hi, I’m Angela, I’m alcoholic.

01:14 Audience: Hi, Angela.

01:15 Angela B: My sobriety date is 9-16-06. I come from a long line of alcoholics, both parents, both their parents. We like to joke that we’re not English or Irish, we’re alcoholic. My dad was a Vietnam veteran and he died of this disease 15 years ago. When my parents got together, they were very young and kind of the post-hippie types. They met in a park drinking beer. Super romantic, I know.

[laughter]

01:54 Angela B: They moved into a trailer down in Garden City, and they didn’t have money for furniture and stuff, so they brought a log in from down by the river. They had shag-green carpet and they had wood paneling, and they liked to smoke some weed and get drunk and pretend that they were in the forest.

[laughter]

02:17 Angela B: And that’s what I was born into, so that should explain most of me.

[laughter]

02:21 Angela B: But, yeah, they divorced shortly before I turned two, because my dad’s flashbacks and drinking, they didn’t know it was PTSD back then, and he really tried, he really tried to get sober for my mom, but he couldn’t do it, and she couldn’t have somebody who was having those flashbacks around an infant.

So, my mom raised me alone until the age of six, I believe, and then she met somebody, my step-father, who became my step-father, got married, and went on to have a couple of more kids. My mom didn’t drink a lot during that time. She was working most of the time.

My step-dad was bipolar, undiagnosed, so we moved like nine times within, I think, five years. I went to seven different schools before the fifth grade. Then in the fifth grade he molested me, and when that happened, I didn’t tell my mom right away because he told me that she would kill herself if I did, and she’d already been at the mental hospital at least once, and so I believed him.

So, it wasn’t until we did another move and something else happened that I was able to talk to a neighbor friend, and their parents called the police, and so all of that came to light. The reason this is important for my history is that that’s when my mom realized that she had a problem as well, and that we needed to do something about this dysfunction in our family. So, she joined Al-Anon, and it was in Al-Anon that she determined that she was also an alcoholic.

04:12 Angela B: So, I was in Alateen, and I was an Alateen speaker. I used to embarrass my mom really bad because… And I didn’t know I was doing it, I was just sharing my story, and part of my story is that my mom had a butt-head detector. If there was a butt-head within 20 feet away, she’d go out with him.

[laughter]

04:34 Angela B: And, of course, this is to a room of alcoholics that she’d been dating, so, yeah…

[laughter]

04:42 Angela B: It was… Yeah, a few years later she reminded me of that, and… Yeah, pretty funny. But, yeah, so I spent some time in Alateen, and so I didn’t become an alcoholic. With the stuff from my step-dad, the way that my mind handled that was to compulsively overeat. So, I didn’t know it at the time, but I think my mind was trying to make me look… If I was overweight, then people wouldn’t be attracted to me and that would never happen to me again.

So, I was obese for most of my teens and 20s, and then in my 20s, late 20s, I got gastric bypass surgery, and I got it because I thought that all the problems that I was having at that time were because of how I looked, that if I lost weight, then I’d get a boyfriend, get a good job, everything would work out.

Within three months of the surgery, people started noticing me, and I started drinking immediately. [chuckle] And I didn’t do beer, or wine coolers, or, what is it, Khaoula and cream. I went straight for tequila, and I became a blackout drinker within a year, and I always blamed my parents for that. I was like, “It usually takes people at least 10 years to get to this point. It’s definitely my parents’ fault that I’m an alcoholic. I don’t even get to drink as long as everybody else before shit started happening. [chuckle]

06:14 Angela B: I did sometimes have that feeling that it describes in the book that I’d arrived. I kind of got to be the cool kid for a while, at least five minutes at a time before the drink wore off, or before I blacked out. I recall towards the end of that period, before I got sober, some of the stuff that sucked the worst was coming-to at about two in the morning downtown and realizing I’d peed my pants, and that everybody could see that because it was just my pants.

[laughter]

06:55 Angela B: So, they’re all getting out of the bars and laughing at me, and so I was near Angels and their sprinklers were on, so I ran over to roll in sprinklers, figuring it would be better if it looked like I passed out in the sprinklers than peed my pants. And so, I felt like if I could have out-thought this thing, I would have, because that was one of the examples.

Another one was I found myself driving drunk, and I had a cousin who died from a drinking and driving accident. And so, from a very young age, I was like, “I’m never going to drive drunk.” And so, then I’m going home with one eye, that thing, and I’m like, “Okay, we can’t do that anymore.” So, I started riding my bike to the bar, and then I lost my bike and woke up all bruised and stuff, so then I started walking. It never occurred to me that maybe I should stop drinking. [chuckle] It was transportation that was my problem.

[laughter]

07:55 Angela B: And so, yeah, so it went from there. And until the point that I just couldn’t stand who I was anymore, and I was suicidally depressed. And so, I was able to call a place… I called a suicide hot line first, and they asked, “Well, do you have a plan?” And I’m like, “Well, of course I have a plan, if I didn’t have a plan, I’d just be really depressed, wouldn’t I?” And they said, “Well, you have to go to the hospital.” So, I went to the hospital to be checked out, and that’s when I called my mom and said to her that I was an alcoholic, because I hadn’t admitted to her yet. And I’d avoided her because I didn’t want her to know and was pretty successful at that.

And so, I went to Franklin House at that time, and they did a two-day detox type thing and stabilization. And that’s when I admitted that I was an alcoholic for the first time, and so… So, I went to my first meeting, it was at the Glass House. Well, actually, I’d gone to a meeting about eight months earlier. I had looked online because I knew that I had a problem, some bad stuff was happening, I was waking up in the ER and not knowing what happened. And so, I looked it up online, and one of the pamphlets is a newcomer asks, and in it says that AA is for people of all shades of belief and non-belief. And I’m like, “Wow, they really progressed. I can go because I’m atheist.”

09:35 Angela B: And so, I go to my first meeting and they were godding all over the place. It was everywhere, I swear. More than likely it was they just read the steps and maybe some of the stuff in chapter 5, but in my mind, it was just, God, God, God, God, God. And so, I had to go out for a bit longer.

And so this time, when I got to the Glass House, one of the things that I thought was helpful, and I don’t know that it is for everyone, but when they went around, they say their names and that they’re alcoholic, and everybody does it, and it’s like, by the time it got to me and I said it, “I’m Angela, I’m alcoholic,” it just felt like I had arrived, like these are my people, that’s my truth, and this is where I’m supposed to be. But I was honest, I’m like, “I really don’t know how I’m going to do this because I’m atheist. And so, I’m here giving this a try because I’m poor and I can’t go to rehab. And some of you seem to be able to stay sober, and maybe I can do that as well.”

10:41 Angela B: And so, they gave me a 24-hour coin, and I still have that coin, it’s in my wallet now. I carry it with my year coin. And it helped me, the first while I would put it in my pocket, I still do, for going to concerts and things like that. I don’t generally walk around afraid that I’m going to drink, but sometimes just having it there or touching it reminds me of you guys, reminds me of who I am, and I kind of call it, the people in my pocket. It’s my people in my pocket, my AA. And it helps me. So, at that meeting, two women gave me their phone numbers, and one of them lived down the street from me, so I didn’t want to call her ‘because I knew she was spying on me now.

[laughter]

11:37 Angela B: And the other one, she seemed nice, nice enough, and what she said to me was, “Give me a call tomorrow, and let me know how you’re doing.” And of course, part of me is co-dependent, so I’m like, “Well, if she really needs me to, I guess, I’ll give her a call tomorrow. I wouldn’t want her to go out and drink.”

[chuckle]

11:58 Angela B: And so, she kind of tricked me into being my temporary sponsor because I’d call up and she’d be like, “How are things going?” And I’m like, “It sucks.” And she says, “Well, go to a meeting and give me a call tomorrow.” And so, I was doing that, and at that time if you travelled around the country, you actually had to pay roaming fees if somebody called you or talked to you. And I found out a little later that she had been out of town in New York for some sort of thing, and she was letting me call and talk to her every day and just say stupid stuff. And I’m like, “Wow, that’s love right there. Nobody would do that for me.”

And so, doing that helped me get to enough meetings that I found one that had a woman in it who as Buddhist. And I’m not Buddhist, but she was able to help me translate some of the language so that I understood better, so that it could work for me. Because language really was getting in the way for me. I was still going to meetings and stuff, but people would say stuff like, “I hit my knees in the morning in prayer, and I hit my knees at night,” and I’d just be so pissed off, I’d be like, “You know what, I came in here to learn to stop hitting my knees so much. So, I don’t know what the hell you guys are doing.”

[laughter]

13:21 Angela B: And so, as I went through the steps, she helped me understand, “Oh, okay, so they get up in the morning and they remind themselves that they’re not the center of the universe, and they make an intention to try to be helpful to other people throughout the day.” And I’m like, “Okay, I could do that. Why didn’t they just say that.” But I needed help with that.

13:42 Angela B: I also, in this first… I think I was maybe 30 days sober, and I went to Woman to Woman, which is a retreat around here that brings together Al-Anon women and AA women. And at this retreat, they were going to do a ceremony for their closing ceremony that is a Native American type of thing, where they call the four corners, and then they burn their fists up, and things like that. And there was some big controversy around it. Women were upset. Some of them were like, “This is horrible, I can’t believe we’re doing this,” because it went against their spiritual beliefs. And other ones were like, “Well, this is part of my spiritual belief.”

And so, the last day of the conference they did that, and then they were talking about it and fighting at the end of meeting, and so I got up and said, “You know what? It was really important to me that you guys did this, because it showed to me, in your actions, that you truly mean that any of us can get sober, that anyone of any belief can get sober in AA. And so, because you did that, that’s keeping me here even a little bit longer so that maybe I can get through these steps and find something that works for me.”

15:00 Angela B: So, I found a sponsor who started me on the steps, and I’ll take you through kind of how I do them or I understand them. Some of it was how she took me through, some of it is how my second sponsor… I changed sponsors after three years, just because I needed some different things. And I’m still friends with my first sponsor, but most of the time when people find out that I’m atheist, and that I’ve been sober for a while, and I’m still atheist, they want to know, “How do you do the steps?”

So, yeah, so the first step, usually what I do and what I did was write on it. And so, I’m writing, usually reflecting on my experiences with alcohol, like the first time I drank, the first time I was drunk, the first time I had a problem, and what experiences brought me to the rooms. And so, in doing that, for me, I learned that alcohol wasn’t my problem, that I was my problem, and that alcohol was my most recent solution. Before that it was food. Sometimes people get sober and they change their solution to religion, or gambling, or sex, or love. And I never made it to material wealth, I sometimes wish that I had.

[laughter]

16:23 Angela B: That would have been a nice one to have a solution for a while. But yeah, this was just one of those, and that was helpful for me to understand that, because my drinking career wasn’t actually that long. It was serious, but it wasn’t long. But my use, my addiction is. And if I hadn’t got in AA and started working the steps, I don’t know that I’d even be here today, because I would’ve found something else.

16:56 Angela B: And so, step two was one that was a little concerning at first, but what helped me is, I think of it as coming to recognize that there are resources available to help me with my life problem, that can help me make better decisions. And my first sponsor didn’t have me read the book at all, it wasn’t part of how she sponsored. But I read the book anyway because I’m the type of person that read the Bible just to argue with people about it. And so, I wanted to do the same thing with the Big Book. And so, I knew what it said. But she didn’t have me do that.

My second sponsor had me do an exercise that was really helpful, of reading We Agnostics, which my friend, Owen, I love him, he says it’s called We Agnostics. It’s not We Hate Agnostics, or Don’t Be an Agnostic. [chuckle] And I’m like, “Okay, alright,” because it’s not my favorite in the Big Book, but reading it, she had me go through and write out or underline… I’m not a big underliner, so I write them in journals, but all the different names that are used for higher power in that chapter. So, stuff like the broad highway and the great reality of infinite power and love. And so that reminds me that they use a lot of different terms in there, and so it’s helpful.

18:27 Angela B: And so, I have people do that because a lot of the people that I sponsor are like me, and they come in and they’re often really pissed off at AA, at religion, at whatever. And so, by looking at that chapter and looking for the similarities or for the diversity in it, helps them to be able to feel a little bit closer to the program, and like maybe they can fit in. And then we usually write a list of things that help us stay calm. So, for me it’s like spending time with animals. I was really into those adult coloring books way before it was cool. That’s the hipster in me. Yeah, I was so into that, and I was into that because I was in the mental hospital and that’s what they had us do back then.

[laughter]

19:11 Angela B: But it sounds a lot better saying, “Yeah, I was into it before it was cool.” Or going for a walk and talking to a friend, that kind of thing.

19:22 Angela B: Step three was of course difficult. When I first looked at it, I wanted to come up with a higher power that beat out all the other ones, like I don’t know, Buddha beats out Jesus or whatever. It is like a hierarchy of higher powers, and the Hindu tradition has a goddess called Kali Ma. And she’s this fierce goddess of destruction and she’s always featured stepping on Vishnu with her foot on his head, and she wears a necklace of severed men’s heads. And I’m like, “If I could believe in anything that would definitely be my goddess.”

[laughter]

20:07 Angela B: But the truth is that that didn’t work for me either. And so how I think of step three is for right-sizing me and to remember possibilities. And one of the things that my second sponsor had me do was write out the third step prayer and an affirmation that works better for me. And I’m oppositionally defiant as well, as most of us are [chuckle], and so I have to write things in a way [chuckle] that gives me options. And so, I think I wrote out, “Since I’m not the center of the universe, perhaps I could look for ways to be of service or to show kindness to others today.” And so, that’s what I worked on for a while.

Nowadays if I’m circling on something, and people suggest the third step prayer for that, I just let a different part of my mind work on it, because I really have a great respect for the human brain, for human organism for that matter. And there’s a lot of stuff I don’t know about or understand about this organism and this thing called Angela. And so maybe a different part of me can work on it for a while, and something will come up. And it often does, and sometimes it’s just because I’ve been in so many AA meetings that something that I may have heard a long time ago and stored away somewhere comes up, a solution that somebody else had to whatever the problem is I’m thinking of. So that’s what works for me with Step Three.

21:42 Angela B: Step four, I remember I spent a lot of time trying to get the right notebook.

[laughter]

21:48 Angela B: Because it’s important. That’s what the steps about, right? Making columns and… [chuckle] And I made columns on every page of the book, about three-fourths of the way through. So, I think like the last 10 pages did not have columns. But that’s how much I thought I was going to need is the entire note except the last 10 pages, because I wasn’t that bad. But I did all that and I was sure that I was going to have more character defects than most people because I was either better than or less than, and in character defects, so I thought it would be better to have more than everybody else. I thought if there was a periodic table of character defects there’d be Angelinium. And what I found was not so much. But I wrote things down, and when I got stuck, I’d do things like I turned the page upside down or I’d write sideways or with my other hand, and I found that help me get through them and get things down.

22:57 Angela B: On step five, I was learning, with that, to take responsibility for the stuff that was actually mine, not for things that weren’t. And just writing things down, doing inventory on step four, if I hadn’t shared that with somebody, there’s a lot of stuff that I would have taken responsibility for that wasn’t mine, or I’d be taking responsibility for the wrong things.

One of the experiences I’ve had in AA is women coming to me who’ve relapsed, that part of their story in that is that they got to the fourth step and they were sharing it with a woman, and they were sharing part of their history, and it usually has abuse or rape or incest, something of that sort. And the woman would say, ask them what their part was, or they would tell them what their part was and that it would have to do something with clothing and such. And so that’s where it can be really difficult. If you’re sponsoring somebody and they go through that, it’s very highly advised to have them seek out extra help. It talks about that in the book, that we seek out professionals to help with that.

24:11 Angela B: And that’s my main recommendation for that, and for them to work in that way until they can come to a point of… Like for me, the way I worked through it was that I found that my part, I had nothing to do with what happened to me. I was not to blame, I was a child. But how it affects me now is that sometimes I will disassociate or blank out when my partner is trying to talk to me about something difficult because I’m scared.

So, what I need to do is be honest and say, “Hey, I’m feeling scared right now. Can we talk about this later? Or can we sit side by side instead of you right in front of me?” And so that was what my part was is that I was using a tool I needed back then to survive in an inappropriate way as an adult. And so that’s what I took responsibility for was how I was using it inappropriately as an adult. Nothing to do with what actually happened to me. And that was pretty important to me, because when I got to six and seven, that was what helped me feel a sense of relief and grace, was that one part of my brain was saying, “Hey, it’s okay, it wasn’t your fault, and you did the work on this, and now you have some choices.”

25:37 Angela B: So yeah, so for six and seven, there’s another guide that I read that talks about six and it phrases it as, “Be entirely ready to acknowledge our abiding strength and release our personal shortcomings,” and that the principle is the willingness to change. And I found that to be true. So, I listed the defects or shortcomings, whichever one you want to say, and I had to write down how it had been useful to me, like, “This defect has been useful to me because… “

And so, like judgment. I don’t pray for judgement to be removed from me or being judgmental or anything like that. What I understand of judgement is that it helps me not to get hit by a car. And so, it would really suck to be praying for judgment to be removed from me, and then walk out in front of a car. I’d be pretty upset about that. But what I need to do is not use it in an inappropriate way, I need to use it for the right thing. The wrong thing is negative comparison. So, what can I do instead? What other ways can I take care of a need if I’m feeling judgmental? Something’s going on and so I need to look at that.

26:51 Angela B: And so, I would go through all of my shortcomings and get perspective on them, learn how to use the tool in the appropriate way or choose a better one. Another example that came up in my inventory was manipulation. I’m very manipulative and I have been. And it was useful to me because it helps me create a problem-solving skill. How can I make this person do what I want? So, it’s been helpful. It helped me survive all these years. But there are other options like learning to accept others and situations as they are. I’m still working on that, particularly on Facebook.

[laughter]

27:32 Angela B: And procrastination. Procrastination gives me time to think through ideas.

[laughter]

27:42 Angela B: But another way to do it is the pause… It sounds better when you say, “I’m pausing,” when agitated or doubtful.

[chuckle]

27:51 Angela B: So those are some of the things that I learned in doing six and seven, was what are these different things, where did they come from, how did I learn them? Usually, as a child, it was something I used or learned in order to survive my childhood, and that I don’t need to do that anymore, I don’t need to use that tool in that way, that I have options. One of the things I worked on with my first sponsor was learning to say no. And that sounds like, well, everybody can do that, right? But in my family, if someone asks you to do something, you had to do it because they usually did something for you at some other time, and then you owed them for the rest of your life.

So, I’d say yes to something my mom would ask me to do, but then I’d be pissed at her and grouchy because I’m doing what she asked me to do when I really didn’t want to do it. So, then I have a resentment and then I have to write on that and the whole thing. But I didn’t know how to get out of that, that’s how I learned to relate and function. And my sponsor said, “Well you can say some other things besides yes, and no. You can say, “Hey, can I get back to you on that?” Or, “I’ll have to think about that and let you know.” There’s some options. It was amazing.

29:13 Angela B: And so, then we went on to eight. So, eight, I generally look over the fourth step as my starting point and see what I need to do to make amends. Sometimes I need to talk to the person. Sometimes it’s write a letter. Sometimes a lot of it was make payments. And sometimes making amends is actually just setting or clarifying a boundary. As I’ve mentioned, my family didn’t really have boundaries and I had to learn how to do that. Something that I heard in Al-Anon that… I forgot what it was now. Anyway [chuckle], something like if it’s important, it can wait, and if it can’t wait, it’s not important. Some of those kinds of things.

29:58 Angela B: And my mom, when I was doing this work and actually practicing it, which is the tough part when you’re going through the steps, actually doing the stuff when situations come up, my mom called me because my sister had gotten out of the State Hospital South and had been staying with her and brought some guy that she [chuckle] met there. And they were sleeping on my mom’s couch, because that’s what you do, and it’s normal, right?

And so, she was calling to complain to me about it, that, “These two are sleeping on my couch and I don’t even know who this guy is and they’re not getting a job and they’re not helping do things around the house, they’re not contributing.” And so, I said, “Well, I guess when you’re tired of that you’ll kick them out.” [chuckle] And with that, she was not happy with my response. She was like, “Are you doing Al-Anon on me?” And I’m like, “Well, maybe.”

[laughter]

30:49 Angela B: And so now our relationship is different. Now she knows that it’s probably not a good idea to call me to complain about that stuff. And so, on nine, when I actually went to do the things, again, it was important to write out what I thought I would need to do for amends and go over that with my sponsor, because sometimes what I wanted to do would not be helpful to that person.

Sometimes when I wanted to do it wasn’t helpful. I wanted to do it right away in order to relieve myself of the feeling of guilt or just get that release, and sometimes it wasn’t the appropriate time. So, it was really important for me to run that stuff by my sponsor, what I intended to do and what my intentions were behind making these amends.

In 10, that’s where I learned to pause. [chuckle] I had to, with my first sponsor, we practiced that I couldn’t quit my job without calling her, because I had a tendency at that time to… Somebody would send me an email saying, “Do you know where such and such file is?” And I’d read that as, “They think that I lost the file. They’d think that I’m stupid. They can’t treat me that way. I’m out of here,” when often it was just like, “Do you know where this file is?”

[laughter]

32:07 Angela B: So yeah, so I had to call her first and run it by her before I quit my job, so that she could remind me that, “Yeah, maybe they just want to know where the file is, Angela.”

[laughter]

32:21 Angela B: And I found that it’s helpful and it’s helped me… It may be the biggest thing that’s helped me in being a pseudo-step-parent. I’ve been with my sweetie for seven years now. And if anybody wants to learn about powerlessness, become a step-parent. And so not being a breeder myself, [chuckle] I don’t have a lot of power.

And the kids were really loud even when they were quiet, they were loud. And it’s like they’re just sitting in their room by themselves, reading a book or doing something and I’m like, “They’re so loud.” And so, I had to learn. I got to use the tool that I’d learned in AA. Thank goodness I had five years sober by that time. There’s a reason why I didn’t have a relationship before that, that yeah, I needed to pause. They may say something or do something, or their behavior or action may trigger something in me, and it usually had to do with me. And so, by pausing and not saying what I thought, then I’d been able to maintain an awesome relationship with these girls that are now 17 and 15. And that’s saying a lot for anybody who deals with teenagers, [chuckle] to have a good relationship with them at that age.

33:37 Angela B: And so, yeah, so 10 I think was what helped me with that. I learned to pause, and I learned that when I did say stuff that was hurtful, to take care of it right away, that the longer you wait, the worse it can be. So yeah, so 10 is doing that. And again, what I mentioned earlier of trying to get up in the morning and remember I’m not the center of the universe and that perhaps I could be of service to other people today and to be intentional in doing that.

34:07 Angela B: So, with step 11, what I consider with that one is, I consider it a learning step, that I’m going to continue learning. I’m learning new tools to stay sober, I’m learning new things to better myself. Since I’ve been sober, I started baking food.

[laughter]

34:28 Angela B: And I’ve got to clarify that. I said that and somebody’s like, “All right.” No, no, sorry, wrong… Yeah, no. Yeah, cookies and shit. And my mom was a terrible cook. That’s one of the reasons why I’m vegetarian is she couldn’t cook meat, and so I never developed a taste for it. [chuckle] And so it tastes weird to me, the texture and stuff. But yeah, she baked cookies one time and we could throw them at each other. She’s like, “Don’t do throw the cookie at her, you’re going to poke her eye out.” And so, I started watching YouTube, and now I’m awesome at making cookies. I make really cool decorative cookies, and it’s very meditative for me. It’s an act of meditation. When I’m doing it, I’m in the zone and it’s very healing for me.

Right now, I’m learning about trauma in the body, how it stays in the body, and that I’ve done all this work, and cognitively I can manage… I can pass for a mature adult most of the time, but that there are some physical things that are happening with me that are likely due to the trauma that I suffered that needs to be worked out physically, somatically is what they call it. So, I’m learning about Nia, a dance thing that’s like Aikido and Yoga and dance all at the same time. It’s extremely awkward but it feels really good. And so that’s something that I put in there for step 11, is doing things like that, continuing to learn.

36:06 Angela B: And then I’m 12. And 12 of course is being of service, and that it to me is the key to my emotional balance or whatever looks almost like balance. It helps me think of my connection with myself, with AA, with other alcoholics. My first sponsee I had a little over a year, and I was terrified. [chuckle] And I just had lunch with her, she was in town, she’d moved to Pennsylvania, she’s in a doctorate program of some sort.

And so, we were having lunch and going to a meeting, and she’s like, “How many years do you have now?” And I told her, and she’s like, “Well, that’s only like one year more than me. I thought you had more than that when we started.” I’m like, “No, I was terrified. I did not want to break you.” And she’s like, “Well, the biggest thing I remember is that at my first meeting, I had one of those meeting schedules, and we went through and you circled all the meetings with good snacks for me.”

[laughter]

37:08 Angela B: And that’s right, I forgot that I used to do that, because when I got to AA, I had no money, I was broke. I could barely keep a job as you have heard, because of my attitude. And sometimes I didn’t have a car that ran, all that stuff. And so, going to meetings with snacks was really, really helpful. So, I’d do that for people when… Yeah, back then. So that made me laugh.

A thing that I’ve done is started my home group. My home group is on Tuesdays, it’s Atheists, Agnostics, and All Others. And it was started almost, it’ll be 11 years ago next week. And I started it with four other people, and the name we got because I’m atheist, and there was an agnostic, and then there were a couple of others, one Buddhist and one deist, which I didn’t even know what deist was, but it’s apparently somebody who believes in God but just believes that that they don’t care. [chuckle] I’m like, “Okay, alright. Weird, but yeah, whatever works for you.”

38:11 Angela B: But we started that group… I wanted to make a group. We’d heard that there were other ones like in New York and San Francisco that were secular, which means just basically without religion, which is what I think AA is supposed to be, but the Lord’s Prayer is really difficult for a lot of people for a variety of reasons. And so, we wanted to make a meeting where that wasn’t going to be a problem, and that people of all religions or lack thereof could come to. And that’s what our meetings turned into, which was amazing.

I wouldn’t say half, but quite a few of the people in my home group are people who have been in the program for a long time that do have a higher power that they refer to as God. And they just love our group because of the feeling they get from it. And we talk about things in a slightly different way because some people need that when they get here, they need to be around people who can talk about sobriety without using the God language in order to help them build their translator, their AA-to-secular translator. And once they have that, then they can go to meetings and they can hear what people have to say.

39:21 Angela B: There’s someone that has been part of our meeting and he’s in and out of town, and he couldn’t make our meeting for a while, but he was still in Boise, and so I said I’d go to a couple of other regular meetings with him that I liked. So, I go to regular meetings as well, and then we debrief afterwards. And I’m like, “So what did you get from that meeting?” And he’s like, “Nothing. They just said that they let go and let God.” And I said, “Well, you need to listen for the action. In their mind, that’s what they did. They let go and let God. But if you would listen to the lady, she also said that she let go and let God or she prayed to turn it over to God and then she went for a walk. [chuckle] And then she called her sponsor and wrote some inventory.” And I’m like, “So the action is usually there. Whatever they attribute to what helped them, listen for the action because that’s what we have in common. We all do the same things. We just sometimes phrase them in different ways.”

40:18 Angela B: And so, coming to our group, people are able to do that easier now, and so they’re able to go to other groups. And sometimes they develop a higher power that is a deity or a supernatural thing or whatever and that’s awesome too. This program works regardless of that. The person that I’ve sponsored continually the longest is LDS, and she’s still LDS. [chuckle] And one of the ways that she writes her inventory is she has a column that reads, “What would God have me do?” And you know that I did not tell her to write that column like that.

[chuckle]

40:58 Angela B: But that’s what helps her, and so that’s what she does, and we go through it that way. And I use language that is useful to her. And I can only do that because of AA as a whole, because of the community, because of the structure. And in Boise AA in general, I’ve been going to a couple of conferences for secular people in AA, and I’m always surprised at how much pain and hurt some of these people have. In other areas, groups like mine are being de-listed, there are people that decide that if they don’t use God language, then they’re not AA. And it’s really sad. And so, these people are often struggling with whether they even want to be a part of AA. And so, we get together, and we talk about things, and I share with them that that’s not the way it is in Boise. That’s not been my experience.

People were very supportive of me starting this meeting. The other people I started it with had 19 years more sobriety than me, 22 years, and I think 30 years. [chuckle] Some people thought it was like, “Oh, this little one-year-old starting her own AA. Let’s see how that goes.” But really, there were some old-timers that wanted something different. And then the people at other meetings too I think were probably just glad that I had a place to go to talk about being Atheist, so they didn’t have to hear it.

[laughter]

42:22 Angela B: But they were very supportive of me and they’re very supportive of anybody who’s struggling and would rather them have a meeting like ours or be able to send them to somebody or talk to somebody like me, rather than go out simply because they struggle with a higher power concept. And so, I’m very grateful for that.

I don’t know if I would have stuck around if I hadn’t had the type of people that we have in Treasure Valley AA. If those women hadn’t done that ceremony up at Woman to Woman. At that time, there was a woman going around there calling me Andrea. She was like, “Oh, newcomer Andrea.” And that’s how she was introducing me to other people. And I never bothered to correct her because I was still in my first 30 days and was just like, “What the fuck, it doesn’t matter.”

[laughter]

43:12 Angela B: And, and when she learned that, she was like, “Why didn’t you tell me?” I’m like, “I don’t know, it’s not like I’m in my right mind in the first 30 days.” But yeah, people like this woman who did that, even though that they were fighting with each other. And that’s one of the things is we do that in AA, that’s what people do in families. Sometimes they fight with each other, but we have a community and we love each other and it’s more important to the majority of people in Boise AA, that somebody stays sober than what they call their higher power, and I’m super grateful for that. So that’s what I have tonight. Thank you.

[applause]

[music]

44:12 John S: Well, that concludes another episode of AA Beyond Belief: The Podcast. Thank you so much, Angela, once again, for sharing your story with us. I thought it was great. And thank you

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Gigi Brown

Angela, wow! Your story both moved and completely relieved me! I have been attending AA meetings on and off since 1988. Although I do niyhold the “God stuff” responsible for my many relapses, I can say that it has been a major stumbling black for me in my periods of abstinence. I am now 3 and a half years sober and have finally come to a place in my life that I can feel free to admit that I do noy believe in God. This has been a long time coming for me. I tried “the way of faith and… Read more »

Angela
Angela

Yay! I’m so happy to hear that you found it helpful! I was surprised at how vulnerable I felt after it was published, but I kept telling myself if it helps even one person, it’s worth it! So thank you for commenting!

The books that I reference the most for 12 Step work are: The Alternative 12 Steps: A Secular Guide to Recovery, The Little Book: A Collection of Alternative 12 Steps, and Beyond Belief: Agnostic Musings for 12 Step Life. They can all be found at AAAgnostica.org.

Best of luck in your continued recovery!

~Angela

 

Murray J.
Murray J.

It’s because of the pioneers in secular AA that we were able to celebrate our 4 year anniversary for our Beyond Belief Suburban West Group in Mississauga tonight. Lots of cake etc and great fellowship. Joe C who wrote The Beyond Belief Musings book was there tonight. He was at the inaugural meeting those 4 years ago. Secular AA in Ontario is thriving thanks to some courageous people like Carole M the past Chair of ICSAA 2018. She co founded our group. Thanks Carole! I’ve been watching the responses to your recorded sharing in Boise Angela. Your goal of helping… Read more »

Angela
Angela

Thanks so much, Murray!

Congratulations on your groups 4 year anniversary! That’s awesome!!

 

 

Katie McCarthy

I understand Angela.Thanks for sharing your story

Angela B
Angela B

For context, I was speaking to a meeting of mostly court card people and people who are more of the Back to Basics variety of AA. It was important to me to get across seeking outside help when abuse issues are disclosed in the 4th step, because I hear about a lot of victim blaming, particularly from young women who’ve attended meetings in this location.  I was trying to stress that no one is responsible for the abuse they’ve endured, but also relate that I found it helpful to think in terms of taking responsibility for personal healing as an adult. … Read more »

Katie McCarthy

No victim ,be it a child or an adult  ,is responsible in any way, for being sexually abused

Murray J.
Murray J.

Thank you Angela! I can identify with so much you said. My Beyond Belief Suburban West group in Mississauga has several 25+ year “veterans” who are so relieved they now have found a new home free of dogma. I’m now 22+ years myself and felt a sense of ease and inclusivity at our secular meeting.

 

Again, thank you!