WACYPAA XXII Secular AA Members Panel

This is a recording of a panel discussion conducted at the Western Area Conference of Young People in AA held from January 3-6, 2019. The recording was provided courtesy of Angela B. from the Atheists, Agnostics, and All Others group in Boise, Idaho.


0:00:00 Angela: Hello, we’re going to start this meeting on time. I’m Angela, I’m an alcoholic.

0:00:06 Group: Hi, Angela.

0:00:07 Angela: Hi.

0:00:08 Group: We love you, Angela. Lots and lots and lots. In whole bunches! Hoo-wah!

0:00:16 Angela: Thank you. Thanks for joining us for the panel, Widening the Gateway secular members of AA. Please join me in a moment of silence to use as you wish.


0:00:35 Angela: Thank you. The topic today is going to have panelists discussing how sustainable sobriety can be achieved in AA regardless of belief or disbelief. I am excited to introduce, we have Ian B from Boise and Jerrica T from Mesa, Arizona, and Jeff H also from Boise. Each person will share their experience, strength and hope for about 15 minutes. And then at the end, if there’s time, we’ll do questions from the audience. So I’d like to go ahead and introduce Ian first.

0:01:12 Ian: Hi, everyone, my name’s Ian, I’m an alcoholic.

0:01:14 Group: Hi, Ian. We love you, Ian, lots and lots and lots, in whole bunches! Hoo-wah!

0:01:23 Ian: Thank you very much, very flattering.


0:01:27 Ian: So I guess, standard format for the way that I’d like to speak is what it was like, what happened, and what it’s like now. So a little bit about my story, per usual I started drinking, I don’t know, around 15, or 16. Honestly, I didn’t even really like it that much when I first started, wasn’t really that enjoyable to me. But then I went to college, and college life had its effect on me. I started drinking regularly by the time I was 18, 19 and was drinking every night pretty quickly after that. My experience is pretty tied up with my academic career as I started. I was attending school, I was a college student and somehow I managed to graduate, and actually graduate pretty well, I graduated with honors from Portland State University and my degree was in Philosophy. So philosophy has a pretty intrinsic role to me being secular in AA. Somehow, as I said, I somehow managed to graduate with honors, and do pretty well. I didn’t miss class very often, I was actually pretty involved in everything as an undergrad and I decided I would try graduate school.

0:02:41 Ian: Well, when I went to graduate school, I moved up to Canada alone and things escalated very quickly for me. My only coping skill was drinking, and so pretty much every time I was by myself, which was a lot, I was drinking. I quickly with that experience of grad school, I quit going to class. I was a TA at the time, and I stopped those duties pretty regularly as well. I started just basically waking up, drinking, blacking out, passing out, and repeat. So by the end of the first year, that didn’t work so well for me, and I took a leave of absence from school, came back to the States back here to Boise and I went to my first rehab, was a small little rehab out in Gooding, Idaho here, which is called the Walker Center. It’s a pretty popular place. I did my 30 days there, thought things were going well and decided I’d be good, go back to school. So I started up in the following fall semester, and I bought a bottle as soon as I got back to Canada, and things then very quickly went out of control for me. I was pretty much the worst student you can imagine.

0:03:54 Ian: It turns out that when you’re a grad student and you get a regular stipend, you don’t really have to do anything for it, it’s a perfect fuel for becoming an alcoholic. I would just basically get a regular paycheck that I didn’t earn and I blew it all on booze. But after about another year of that, things were just pretty much out of control. I was sick a lot of the time, and like I said, I abandoned pretty much going to class. I never actually turned in a single assignment as a graduate student, not a single thing. And somehow, I don’t know how I didn’t get called out on this but I’d fall asleep in classes, and I’d show up just reeking like whiskey. I had a class with four other people including myself and the professor, and I’d pass out in that regularly. So it was just a pretty awful experience. Towards the end, I just completely dropped out of my program. I talked with my advisor, who was super cool, super understanding, but I told her I just had health concerns, and she knew what I was talking about.

0:04:58 Ian: So about a week after that, [laughter] about a week after that, my roommate up there kicked me out and he said, “Dude, you’re not doing anything. You need to go today.” And he gave me 10 hours to get out of the house, move up, pack my stuff and leave the country. So that was kind of an eye-opener, but I did it and I came back here to Boise again. I tried to go through out-patient rehab because I didn’t want to do the whole in-patient thing again, and after about two weeks, I got a job that lasted for about two weeks again, and my drinking pretty much escalated back to what it was, where it was the whole, wake up, drink, black out, pass out, repeat. I got fired from that job pretty quickly, and not long after that, I tried to detox from my, with my self, I guess, through a home doctor. I got some anti-anxiety pills, some benzodiazepines and that didn’t work well because it turns out that taking benzodiazepines when you’re drinking is, for an addict like myself, an alcoholic, they go really well together.


0:06:03 Ian: And that lasted about two days and I took the entire prescription along with a lot of whiskey. And then I went back to the doctor trying to get some more. I was like, “Yeah, this isn’t working.” And he’s like, “You need to go to the hospital.”


0:06:16 Ian: So I ended up in the ER for a few days, and after that I went to my third rehab, which was an in-patient this time again, and that was really kind of the breaking point for me. This last rehab, I was there for about 80 days and I was a complete asshole the entire time. I’m pretty arrogant in a lot of ways, and I just had no… I just didn’t think that anybody could teach me anything because I knew everything. I was a grad student, even though I dropped out. [chuckle] And I really wasn’t willing to hear anything. But towards the end of that 80 days, I started to realize that maybe my role as an alcoholic wasn’t really a very promising career and that I should probably re-analyze that. So, I started getting into AA after that. I found a home group, and it turns out it was a secular home group.

0:07:13 Ian: I’m very lucky that there is a group here in Boise called Atheists, Agnostics, and All Others, and that is where I started to go to because going to other meetings around the area and getting in fights with everybody about how they were wrong and God doesn’t exist, and God is dead and all sorts of things, it doesn’t really get you very far. And I loved arguing with people. So, one random guy… It’s like some people will call us a Godsend and by every sense… Whatever, but I… He just came up to me one after one meeting, after getting in an argument with various people about, “No, faith isn’t a light switch,” and it’s like, “No, I turned on the light switch.” He suggested that meeting to me and so I went. I’ve never seen this guy again.


0:08:00 Ian: Not once.


0:08:02 Ian: I’ve never seen him at my home group meeting, I’ve never seen him afterwards but he suggested I check it out and I did. I got a sponsor there and started doing the steps. This group pretty much I credit with most of my sobriety because it was a place I could go to and feel comfortable. I didn’t have to argue with everybody who was there and there was a shared feeling, kind of a shared bitterness where we all got to exercise our feelings on how traditional AA wasn’t necessarily working for us. We got to lament that. But also I got a lot of tips and tools there on what I could actually do that I found effective and practical and things that worked for me. So, after about a year of that and going to alumni groups at the rehab place that I went to, things started to turn around a little bit and I started to sponsor some people and that’s where I’m at now. So basically for me, the role that I… The reason I talk about school so much is because I studied philosophy, and philosophy is very integral to me in the way that I live my life. Ethics was a primary study for me. But it also taught me that I was an atheist and that I was going to be an atheist when I went into AA and that was not going to change.

0:09:21 Ian: I was not goinng to be convinced by anything. I knew that if I had to accept God or the Judeo-Christian sense of a God, I wasn’t goinng to get sober, that was never goinng to work for me. So luckily for me, I was able to find a group of people that really share that view, or at least were willing to accept me with that view and I could go on from there. I guess that’s what happened, and I combined that with what it was like, but what’s it like now? Well, now I’ve pretty much abandoned my academic career which is totally fine with me. I’ve actually learned that dropping out of school isn’t the worst thing you can possibly do. It did take about two years for me to get over that. That was… I’m a pretty pride, proud, prideful person and that was a hard realization for me. That was really tough to accept that I dropped out of school, especially after I had done a pretty decent career as an undergraduate. But now I actually work at a psych hospital, and that is probably the most rewarding thing I’ve ever done. I get to deal with a lot of people who struggle with addictions, various sort of addictions, and it’s given me a real positive way to relate to people with addiction and other mental disabilities.

0:10:35 Ian: So that’s changed my life around, I want to now be an RN and go and pursue that career because the idea of helping other people and being… I don’t expect to be anybody’s savior, I don’t expect to be the main influence for anybody for getting sober, but it does make me feel good to know that I can contribute in some small way. A lot of people, countless people helped me on my journey to getting sober, and I couldn’t even begin to name them all. And so while I don’t expect to be the main force in anybody, it’s just playing a small role, it’s pretty cool because I remember being in rehab various times, and there were lots of techs, lots of administrators, lots of counselors I had that I really accredit a lot to. And I can’t really thank anymore or at least I haven’t really tried to, but it’s like, if I could be a part of somebody else’s role in that, that would be awesome. I don’t need the acceptance, I don’t need anything. Just the idea of knowing that maybe, maybe, just maybe, that’s enough for me. And so, I guess that’s my story. Thank you.

0:11:39 Angela: Thanks, Ian.


0:11:46 Jerrica: Hi, everybody. My name is Jerrica, I’m an alcoholic.

0:11:49 Group: Hi, Jerrica. We love you, Jerrica, lots and lots and lots, with whole bunches! Hoo-wah!

0:12:00 Jerrica: Yeah, cool. Thank you. So I also identify as an atheist in Alcoholics Anonymous. A sober member of Alcoholics Anonymous and an atheist. It’s still… I go to regular AA meetings still. I’ve gone to a couple of secular meetings. I enjoy them, it’s not that I don’t. So let me back up and get into my story. So, I spent 10 years bouncing in and out, between 2004 and 2014. And during that time, when I look at my spirituality, if I wasn’t sober, I was atheist. But if I came back because I would get so beaten up, I’d come back then it was like, “Alright, well, I guess I’ll do what you guys do and pray and do all these things.” And just fake it ’til you make it kind of thing. And I talked the language, I’d regurgitate a lot of the things I heard in the meetings, even if it wasn’t necessarily my experience. I would just come broken, and I just want a better life. What I was doing wasn’t working, obviously, so I kept coming back. And that’s one thing I can say is, I kept coming back, but it was… When I look back on it now and I realize, if I wasn’t here, I was atheist, and if I was here, I just went along with the flow.

0:13:19 Jerrica: And I would exchange the word ‘God’, I would say the universe, the universe does this or that or whatever, to try to… because I just couldn’t still come to terms with the word ‘God’. But I also realize that I couldn’t come to terms with identifying as an atheist either. And there was a lot of fear around that, because we hear things in AA that’s like, if you have a higher power, you’re goinng to drink and you’re goinng to die, just keep coming back… The whole chapter, “We Agnostics”, after I read it, after I came to terms with accepting that I’m an atheist felt like a pretty big slap in the face, very condescending. And it was interesting reading that afterwards, but the whole spiritual revolution that happened for me, I watched a 10-minute video on Facebook. And it just drove home some really, at the time, really huge ideas for me about things that I already internally knew, logically. “How can I come to terms with all the tragedy and things?” These are not new ideas, right? This philosophy… This is not new ideas, I know that. How could all these terrible things happen in the world?

0:14:32 Jerrica: But then, this higher entity cares enough just about me and these people to keep us sober, but it doesn’t care about these terrible genocides that happen and all these other things. I could not… I came to… To thy own self be true. I came to a point where I could not reconcile those things anymore. And so, it became a thing of, “Now I’m being dishonest.” And I do absolutely need to live by spiritual principles and things that I learned here. So, it became a point of, “Now I’m being dishonest with myself and with my people around me if I continue to use the language… ” So there was a moment of like, “How do I be in AA and be an atheist? How is this goinng to look? How am I goinng to sponsor people?” There was a moment where it was like, I had to call my sponsor and be like, “Okay. So, please don’t hate me. Please don’t leave me.” I didn’t know what to expect from the people around me, so it was like, to my sponsor, to my really close girlfriends, to my husband and who’s also in the program, and be like, “This is what it is. And I don’t know what this is goinng to look like, I don’t know yet.” So that was a couple of years ago, almost two years ago.

0:15:53 Jerrica: So, it’s been a journey of learning how to be in meetings, and not… Sometimes it just comes and goes, it’s different ways. Sometimes I get real irritable, real irritated in all things that I hear. And sometimes I feel really afraid to share my experience, strength and hope. And I just… If I tag or if I’m asked to speak, I just omit God completely and just don’t talk about that. Because ultimately, what is it that seems to be the same for all of us is that we work the steps and we’re of service. We all do these amazing four through nine, and then 10 through 12 of continue to be of service and watch my daily behavior and all that. These are all the same things we do, regardless of what type of God we believe in. So it’s like, it looks to me the process, the actual process that we go through here is what has kept me sober. So it was like, none of that changed and that was… It took a little while for me to realize that, was like, nothing that I did in my recovery program actually changed after I admitted to myself that I was an atheist.

0:17:05 Jerrica: It was like, I kept doing my nightly review, kept doing my gratitude list every night, kept going to meetings, kept sponsoring, kept working with my sponsor, kept having service commitments… And none of that changed. So it was like, okay, so that’s interesting, realization. It was like, I can still do everything that we do and honor my truth at the same time. And I don’t feel lonely in the universe. I don’t feel like I’m goinng to drink, I don’t feel like I don’t have purpose. Really a part of that realization was that, it put the responsibility on me to do the work. It wasn’t like some magical entity was goinng to come down and tap me on the head and say, “It’s your turn to get sober.” It really did put the work on me. I’m the one that has to keep doing the things, keep doing the things, all the things that we have to do and take responsibility for my actions. And it was actually really empowering. So much about it… It was so terrifying at first. To have been in AA for years, years and talked the talk and all this stuff, and then come to terms of the fact of like, here I am. Atheist and still going to mostly regular meetings. And so now, I try to be available.

0:18:21 Jerrica: It’s interesting. Still see synchronicities that happen. I don’t know what that is, I don’t really care. Where it’s like these women seem to come to me that also don’t believe, and so I’m able to sponsor them and I don’t go look for them by any means. And I’m able to share my experience, strength and hope with them, that like, “You can do this. We’ll do exactly what everybody else does. You should have the same experience as everybody else, like working the steps, but honor whatever your unique experiences without being in any type of condescending way to people. You have to do exactly what we do, and to believe exactly what we believe in order to stay sober.” So, it seems like when it’s necessary and relevant, the words come out of my mouth and I’m able to be of service and present for other people that way. But other than that, I also am not trying to start a revolution in AA. I just try to be one of many and… My life is great, my sobriety is wonderful. I’ll have five years in a month, one month I’ll have five years sober. I never… That was crazy to me. And it’s so crazy to me, and it’s been a satisfying wonderful life that I have now. I have this fellowship around me of people, like-minded people.

0:19:46 Jerrica: And it’s been an amazing journey, and I wouldn’t change any part of it, even the part where it was like, yeah, I was saying all the things I believed in God and I didn’t. And I didn’t know that. And that’s okay. I came to terms with it in my own time, and now I just use it as another part of my experience to be of service to somebody who walks in the door, who’s trying not to die, and I get to maybe be one voice to them, that’s not like, “Yes, you’d better have a higher power or you’re goinng to drink and die.” To be a voice, a comforting voice and say, “Hey, you know what, you can do all the same things and have your own beliefs and honor that and not be told, “Keep coming back,” in some way that’s… So I try to be… That’s what I try to be. And still going to regular AA meetings and be available to people, because as I do believe there’s a lot of people that walk in and walk right out, walk right out, because we’re not as welcoming as we could be and very dogmatic and it’s… There’s room for improvement, but I just try to be present and be helpful in whatever way I can. But yeah, that’s been my journey with coming around to my own truth. Yeah, and I’m still grateful for AA, I’m still grateful for all the things that we do and all the people here. I think that’s what I got on that, so thank you.

0:21:09 Angela: Thank you, Jerrica.


0:21:18 Jeff: Hi, I’m Jeff, and I’m an alcoholic.

0:21:19 Group: Hi, Jeff. We love you, Jeff, lots and lots and lots, in whole bunches! Hoo-wah!

0:21:29 Jeff: I wish I’d recorded that, I could play that everyday.


0:21:33 Jeff: I could use that kind of uplift every morning.


0:21:38 Jeff: Yeah. As long as I can remember being alive, I held myself to impossible standards. I think that was just a natural tendency that I either developed or was born with, and it was further stoked by having a father who was a very 50-style father and was very focused on achievement and no emotional support whatsoever. And I was raised Catholic, and for me that particular religion, combined with the parenting style I was experiencing really stoked that, the feelings of guilt and shame. And so every time I would hold myself to impossible standard and fail, I would pick up another guilt or shame rock and put in my backpack. And so I had accumulated a decade or so of those that I can recall by the time I was 15 or 16, and that’s when I started drinking. I started getting access to alcohol at that time. I think the first time I drank, my best friend had scored three beers from the family reunion he went to, [chuckle] and he had scrolled them away in a backpack. I went and stayed the night at his house, I drank two beers, he drank one, and that was just the pattern for the rest of my drinking career is, whatever was around I drank as much of it as I possibly could until I passed out.

0:23:07 Jeff: And as my access to alcohol went up over the years, my problems got worse. By the time I went to college, I didn’t want to go to college, but I was told that I would be going to college or I would not be welcome anymore. So I went. I know that sounds like a very first world problem that my parents made me go to college, but I don’t think I was ready to go to college, and I went to the University of Idaho which had a little bit of a drinking culture back then. I don’t know if it still does. Haven’t been back. I didn’t make it quite as long as Ian did. I made it one and a half semesters. I am not sure how many classes I attended. I drank constantly. My academic career ended with me dragging a historical sign down Lewiston Hill in a blackout, under my car. [laughter] So I’d hit a sign with my car and I was dragging it down the hill, and the Nez Perce tribal police were kind enough to pull me over, and that was my first DUI, I was 18 years old. Moved back home for a few months, I wasn’t really welcome there anymore, moved out on my own, kept drinking. Got a job. As my income increased, so did my budget for booze, not that I was budgeting. But…


0:24:32 Jeff: So as my means increased, my drinking continued to increase; went a long time without actually getting another DUI. My life continued a long, almost imperceptible at times, but just this long downward slide for the next several years. Things that I thought I could be or do just would get disregarded, and I just accept those as another thing that wasn’t goinng to happen, and then I would lump some more guilt and shame on myself as a result, and my drinking would escalate. I lived in San Diego for a couple of years. Proximity to Mexico was not a good thing for my drinking career. [laughter] So things continued to get worse there, moved back home and got a second DUI at about age 26. And then, because my drinking was escalating I got a third DUI like a year later, a year and a half later. Number three was a big deal for me. I remember when I got pulled over for my third DUI, and I actually, ironically, it’s the one DUI I’ve had where I wasn’t in a blackout. I remember getting pulled over, I was trying to get some Jack in the Box, and I was driving my friend home, who was even drunker than I was, I was plenty drunk.

0:25:47 Jeff: I remember getting pulled over and my lawyer had told me that the third one was goinng to be bad if I got… He said, “If you do this again, it’s goinng to be a mandatory felony, it’s goinng to suck. You might go to prison, you don’t want to do this.” And of course, I didn’t want to do it, but I didnt feel like I had a choice, I had to keep drinking. So, when they pulled me over, my buddy who was very drunk, sitting next to me, he said, “Oh, don’t worry, it’s goinng to be fine.” And I said, “No, you don’t understand, it’s goinng to be really bad this time.” And then this feeling of, so there was this initial sense of dread, and then this feeling of calm washed over me because I realized that they were finally going to make me do what I hadn’t been able to do myself. I hadn’t been able to get sober. I hadn’t tried that hard, to be fair, but [laughter] I hadn’t been able to do it. Towards the end I remember making a deal with some friends who drank like I did, that we were all goinng to stop drinking for 30 days, we did it; we got really drunk on day 31, [laughter] and my drinking, it was even worse than before. I played the games. I switched from beer to wine, super recommend that course of action.

0:26:57 Jeff: I tried all kinds of goofy stuff, all to make me feel like I had control over alcohol. I never really had control over alcohol from the day I tried it. So this feeling of calm washed over me and I said, “They’re goinng to make me do something.” And they did. [laughter] I was very fortunate, every time I went through the justice system, there was this emphasis and maybe this has changed in the last 10 years, but there was this emphasis on, I would fill out these endless alcohol evaluations and they would ask me how often I drank, and when I drank, about how much do I drink. And so I was super-fixated on numbers and trying to find a way in my head where I could convince myself that I wasn’t an alcoholic. And so I played these numbers games, and of course I lied on those evaluations, I was not truthful at all the first and second times. And so, I would tell them like, “Oh, I drink once every week or two, but when I drink, I drink like four beers.” It was totally false, all that was wrong. But it gave me a vehicle to start saying like, I plugged in the real numbers in my head and I would come to a conclusion, like, “I’m pretty sure I would have passed that evaluation still, so I don’t have a problem.” Or my problem was manageable, right? Still had a job.

0:28:17 Jeff: So, I had gone through that system so many times that I was still really fixated on numbers and not on the real, the reality of my drinking. And luckily my third time around, I was assigned, I knew I was going to be sentenced and I knew I was going to be assigned a number of things, including a group that I would have to attend. And so I started going to, I signed up for the classes ahead of time, it was at a place called Ascent Behavioral Health in Meridian. I started going to a group there, and that was the first time. I had been in alcohol education classes but this was the first group discussion kind of format that I’d been in, and it was facilitated by someone who’s in the AA program. And I think two or three classes in, after I had been beaten into submission a little bit and forced to share a few times, the facilitator came to me afterward, and said, “I think you better go to an AA meeting.” And as soon as he said that, my heart sunk. because I had years prior, I think probably five years before I got sober, three years maybe, it was when I was in San Diego, it was after a particularly nasty bender in Mexico on 4th of July weekend.

0:29:31 Jeff: I Googled AA and I started, of course the information you find on the internet is perfectly accurate. [chuckle] So I found, eventually found some articles that supported my assertion that AA was a religious organization, that it was a cult, and then I read the steps and decided that it said “God” too many times and that gave me an excuse to go out and drink for a few more years. My life got considerably worse as a result. So, when he told me I should go to AA, I was just like, “Oh man, not that again.” But I was broken and I was willing to do anything at that point, so I pulled up a meeting schedule and it turned out that there was a fairly new meeting at the time called Atheists, Agnostics, and All Others, that was like a mile from where I worked; and I was on a bike at that point, as you might have guessed. So that was…


0:30:26 Jeff: That was very convenient for me.


0:30:30 Jeff: So I attended, that was the first AA meeting I ever went to. I might have been one of the first people in Idaho whose first meeting was a secular meeting. [chuckle] because most of the founders of that meeting were the members at that point and they decided to found that meeting based on other meetings they’ve been to. So I was very fortunate but I also needed other meetings, because they met once a week, and I needed more than that. I’m pretty sure the state of Idaho wanted more than that too.


0:31:00 Jeff: But personally, I needed more than that. So I started attending other meetings as well. What I found, when I first came into AA I had a really hard time processing the heavy use of God, and I had a hard time translating when people would say, when people would talk, when the whole topic was about prayer and specifically how they do their prayers and what they pray about and what they don’t pray about. I had a really hard time translating those meetings. I also had a hard time translating parts of the big book including “We Agnostics” that didn’t feel very helpful to me. So, as I went to those other meetings and then I started comparing them to my home group, I did experience a brief period of time where I became bitter. I became particularly bitter about saying the Lord’s Prayer at the end of a meeting.

0:31:54 Jeff: I felt pretty strongly that, that wasn’t appropriate but I was so broken that I was absolutely willing to fake it essentially, and I did. I would do my best in meetings to contribute if I could, based on the topic; and if I couldn’t, I would at least listen and try to take something away from it. I got a sponsor in my home group, I worked the steps. And my sponsor along with some of the other people in the meeting helped me build up the translation layer that I can use now when I go to regular AA meetings. I’ve been sober for a while now, and for the last few years I mostly just attend my home group. So my filter, my translator, I noticed has gotten a little rusty. I’ve recently started…


0:32:40 Jeff: I recently got a new sponsee, and he attends a couple of other meetings besides ours. It turns out he is… I personally consider myself an atheist at this point, not a militant one. I went through a period in AA where I felt like it was an agnostic because I felt it was important for me to be able to say, “I don’t know about anything, including religion or higher powers.” I recently started attending traditional meetings again and there I thought… I don’t know. It was delusional thinking, but I thought maybe things had changed some and it turns out, it’s pretty comparable to what I remember. And I’m dusting off that translator again, and that’s been a really good exercise for me. In terms of a higher power, I was really spun-out about what I was goinng to use as a higher power when I first got sober. Eventually, my higher power became what I call “the wisdom of the AA program and the people in it”. So for me, the way… My higher power is not intervening, it is not supernatural, but it is always available as a resource to me, and it’s up to me to choose to use it. I usually use it, and at least AA has given me the ability to recognize when I’m not using it, so I’m very grateful for that.

0:34:06 Jeff: AA for me, has been totally transformational. When I got busted for my third DUI, I had no assets. I had a few thousand dollars of credit card debt, I don’t know why anyone would give me a credit card back then. Had a few thousand dollars in debt. Couldn’t drive, had to sell my car. Was living with a crazy person who drank like I did, and we were dating. She was the bartender. [laughter] Good choices. [laughter] That was my life. I still had my job, that all I had left. And it was a pretty crappy job and I was pretty crappy at it because I was hungover all the time, or drunk. Within a year, I was living on my own, I had paid down most of my debt. I think it took two years to pay down all of it. My income had gone up about 30% already and I had a new job, which I actually liked and they liked me because I worked.


0:35:13 Jeff: And every aspect of my life improved. When they read the promises, they say, “Sometimes quickly, sometimes slowly.” Some stuff came really quickly for me, and that was very exciting. Didn’t always… Didn’t stay that way. There were periods where it was prolonged plateaus. And fortunately for me, having a home group, having a sponsor and working the steps, I was able to weather those kind of slow periods or even points where I probably backslid a little bit in terms of my progress and sobriety. And that’s really what I attribute to my long-term success, is having a network of people around me who are as well as we get, and having a place where I can go where I don’t have to translate.

0:36:08 Jeff: I think I could’ve gotten sober for a little while without some sort of a secular meeting. I think I would have gone through the motions. My upbringing had taught me how to go through the motions, especially when it comes to things like religion and spirituality. I could fake it. I don’t think I would have made it long-term in sobriety if that was all I had. So, I’m very grateful that secular AA exists. I’m particularly grateful for the meetings that are welcoming to everyone, whether they’re traditional higher power something, Buddhist, agnostic, atheist, you name it. My home group now is… We’re at a point where we are truly inclusive, and I really like that. I don’t want to draw lines of segregation in AA just by the male-female thing of producing.


0:37:05 Jeff: I don’t want to feel… It’s important for me to feel part of the general AA collective. I don’t know that that’s important for everyone, but it is for me. So, I have to keep my translator working and I have to keep being available as a sponsor to anyone who needs my help, regardless of their particular religion or spirituality. And that’s what I try to do now. That’s all I got.


0:37:36 Angela: Alright. Do you guys have any questions?

0:37:41 Brenda: Hi, I’m Brenda. I’m an alcoholic.

0:37:43 Group: Hey, Brenda.

0:37:45 Brenda: Yeah. So I had a home group in… They do use the Lord’s Prayer to even… And I’ve done research to find out why AA uses the Lord’s Prayer at the end, and I can’t find out why that prayer is used at AA meetings because it’s a religious prayer from the Christian religion and we’re not supposed to be affiliated with any religion. And there’s a new pamphlet out now called “The ‘God Word” in which Bill W says AA is not a religion. My home group, I’ve just recently become a GSR, and I’m really, really thinking about asking a group conscience meeting if we can put word or a preamble that whoever ends the meeting, to end with certain prayers and not the Lord’s Prayer. And my question to you is, have you guys ever found out why do people use the Lord’s Prayer in meetings, and how would you suggest that we eliminate that in normal meetings, if anybody can answer.

0:39:04 Angela: Somebody in the back would like to answer that.

0:39:05 Kristen: My name is Kristen, I’m an alcoholic.

0:39:07 Group: Hey, Kristen.

0:39:08 Kristen: One reason that the prayer lingers is because in 1939, when we started, the society was different, and it was brought on everywhere; and was the most commonly known and recognized prayer of the day in America. And so when AA started, they were hoping for something that people could identify with right away on coming in. And that’s how it got started. But you’re absolutely right about your argument, that’s true.

0:39:46 Angela: Thanks, Kristen.

0:39:48 Kristen: And also, I think the Oxford Group had a lot of influence, they were Christian-based. So, I think that, that helped that, propel that through into…

0:40:00 Angela: Yeah. Right.

0:40:01 Kristen: Hi I’m Kristen.

0:40:02 Angela: You would like to share? Go ahead, person in the green.

0:40:08 Speaker 8: Yeah. I heard this online. If you’re group is using the Lord’s Prayer if you have and you are into it, you’re always welcome to bring it up at your business meeting and make a motion that can change it, and if it’s the conscience of the group to do so then it will change. It’s up to each individual group, how they run the meeting.

0:40:34 Angela: And so today when we close, this is the one that we use for our home group. And it’s, “I put my hand in yours, and together we can do what we could never do alone.” But I know that, that some meetings also use the Responsibility prayer, or statement, sorry.


0:40:55 Angela: And even the Serenity Prayer is helpful for a lot of people. There’s a couple of meetings that I go to, that are traditional meetings but that are aware that the Lord’s Prayer is difficult for people. And so they’ve changed to start and end with the Serenity Prayer, and that’s still more welcoming to people than the Lord’s Prayer is.

0:41:18 Speaker 9: I just like to say I would highly recommend you just suggest it, because part of role of my service now when attending other meetings is to identify as an atheist because it turns out that there’s actually a lot of people who struggle with this concept and who are turned off by the whole ‘God’ word and who are really afraid of it, especially newcomers when they’re coming in, they don’t really, they have no idea what’s going on, and they’re afraid. And you’re never really in a good place when you come to your first day, maybe.


0:41:47 S9: So I just feel like I’ve gotten a lot better instead of just making gigantic arguments towards everybody and being really aggressive; just throwing out a flag and being like, “Hey, I’m one,” and I’ve got a little bit of time under my belt and I still proceed and adopt a lot of AA concepts, and I actually find that that’s really helpful for a lot of people, because now instead of getting in argument or talking with people about how, “I’m not goinng to make it because I don’t believe in God.” I can talk with other people who are really want to know more about the idea of secular AA. And so just throwing out a flag, I think is actually a really useful tool and it really, I would expect, and from my experience, you get a lot more responses than you may think, a lot more interest in it. Yeah.

0:42:38 Angela: You have a question?

0:42:39 Brian: Hello, everyone, my name is Brian.

0:42:40 Group: Hi, Brian.

0:42:42 Brian: I’m also an atheist in AA. I think the first thing in the literature that I really related to is that bit about strange faith and the blind propositino that the universe originated in a cypher…


0:43:00 Brian: A few years later, still right there. I guess, I just wanted to thank Jerrica, Ian and Jeff for raising your hand and saying what you are. I thought I was the only one when I got here. I think everyone thinks you’re the only atheist in the church, and you never are. Now we have a publication like “The ‘God’ Word” and the Grapevine published a book called “The Big Tent” about the experiences of atheists and agnostics in AA. October 2016 Grapevine posted about the experiences of atheists AA members. I want to thank you guys for broadening the highway for us. It’s really an important conversation to have.

0:43:35 Angela: Thank you.

0:43:36 Brian: Thanks.

0:43:37 Angela: Yeah?

0:43:38 Ashley: I have a different question. Hi, my name is Ashley, alcoholic.

0:43:40 Group: Hey, Ashley.

0:43:42 Ashley: So, I do have a higher power I call “God”, and my sponsee is an atheist. And I said, “Okay, is we’re thriving and everything’s going great and you want to stay with me, that’s awesome.” But how can I help that person to believe in something? I’m a little bit confused. Some people say the doorknob when you walk in, or believe that I believe in something. So I’m a little bit confused how to lead that person along. I don’t judge in any way. The door is always open, I’m here to help, but I’m a little bit gray in that area.

0:44:14 Speaker 12: I got this.

0:44:15 Angela: Go ahead.


0:44:16 S1: So, the process of the steps. So it’s like, one, we admit we’re powerless. That’s pretty easy, and manageable. Two, come to believe that our power greater than ourself can restore sanity, and for me that’s working the steps, literally the process of working with steps. And three, made a decision to turn my will and my life over to the steps that I’m goinng to do this, and live this way and finish this. Take her through her fourth step, listen to her fifth step, help her identify her character defects, show her how to make amends, show her how to do 10 through 12. That’s it. So if you can just do that, that’s what I do with my girls, as a sponsor and if they don’t want… If they’re like… They give me the sigh of relief. I’m like, “No, I’m not goinng to tell you to hit your knees everyday. No, I’m not goinng to say that you pray about that.” And they’re like, “Thank you.” And that’s what I do, I literally just work the steps with them the same way I did before, and I just don’t say, “God… ” When I simplify it, the first time I did it, it was so simple. It really is, the work that we lay out really is so simple. And so that’s what I do. So if you can do that with her. And then somebody up here had mentioned it too, applicable real life tools to use.

0:45:42 S1: When they call with a problem, a situation, something that they can do, because we have other suggestions in AA besides praying. Meditation. I still meditate. I think meditation and focusing, one point and focusing all that is a great practice; going to a meeting, calling up someone and talking about it, writing about it. There’s still other things that we can suggest as a tool to use to get through a tough moment without drinking, but then really just still doing the steps the same way you would with anybody else and just letting the process of the steps be the higher power. That’s why I don’t necessarily think it’s my responsibility or anybody’s responsibility to try to convince anyone to believe anything. You know what I mean? because, we don’t have to convince anyone to believe anything that, you don’t have to believe to stay sober. That’s been my experience. I don’t have to believe in God and a higher entity that’s separate, and thinking for me to stay sober. I’m doing it, I’ve been doing it and I’m happy, and my life’s great. So that’s what I would suggest is, just do the process of the steps, or the fourth step, all of that’s the same; literally, it’s all the same. So, that’s…

0:46:50 Angela: And… Oh. Go ahead.

0:46:52 Speaker 13: Okay. Just one other thing I wanted to… That’s a great advice. I use a book called “The Secular 12 Steps.”

0:47:00 Angela: “Alternative 12 Steps.”

0:47:01 S1: “Alternative 12 Steps.”

0:47:04 Angela: “A Secular Guide”.

0:47:04 S1: “A Secular Guide”. Yeah. I find it to be very useful for people who are non-believers. It translates those first few steps, especially that ‘Came to Believe’ step, which could be really sticky, I think. I found that to be very useful when working with a sponsee who is a non-believer. And it’s readily available. It’s basically a secular version of the “Twelve and Twelve”. It also is primarily written by two women, and so it has a very different voice in it, which I think can be useful when working with anyone who doesn’t necessarily identify with the traditional literature as much.

0:47:42 Angela: And my experience has been that, yeah, it’s really the actions that we go through, they’re all the same. So when I have somebody who’s secular that can’t attend secular meetings and is new; and we often hear when you go to meetings to listen for the similarities, I usually tell them to listen for the actions because oftentimes people will say, “Well, I had a problem and I let go and let God, and then I went for a walk, and then I called my sponsor.” And so, I’m like, “So listen for the actions, because they may attribute what they’re doing to their higher power.” But they’re actually doing actions afterwards and we all do the same actions. Also, as far as having somebody that’s of a different spiritual path or lack thereof. The person that I’ve sponsored the longest is LDS, and so I, of course, did not design her steps so that she remain LDS. I took her through the steps the way that I understood them.

0:48:40 Angela: I often use the language that she understands, because it’s beneficial to her; on her fourth step, if she’s doing inventory for anything, one of the columns she has is, “What would God have me do?” And I did not tell her to use those words, [chuckle] but they’re the words that work for her. And so, we go through them, we talk about that. So, yeah. So, I really believe that you don’t have to… Secular members don’t have to just sponsor secular members, or people who do have a higher power that is God, doesn’t have to just work with people like that. The steps, I believe, in the program is the same regardless of your belief, or disbelief, but yeah. And you can talk to some of us afterwards, and we can share some of the literature and things that we use that makes it easier.

0:49:27 S1: It’s so funny you say that, because a couple of years ago when I had first come to terms with this, I was at ASCYPAA, the Arizona state conference, and I went to their secular panel, and I walked in there a mess, like, “I don’t know how I’m supposed to do this.” And one of my questions was, “How do you sponsor? How am I supposed to sponsor now?” And the person up there was like, “It’s not about you.”


0:49:49 S1: It’s about them, whatever works for them.” So, if you sponsor somebody who believes in God, whatever, and I have. Then, whatever they need. If they needed me to tell them to pray, then I’ll them to pray, if that’s a tool that works for them, then I do that. But that was like, when they were like, “It’s not about you.” And I was like…


0:50:07 S1: “Oh, it’s not about me and my experience, and what I’m believing, or not believing, it’s about them, and what can I do to help them find a quality, lasting sobriety like I have?”

0:50:17 Angela: Yeah. We still have time, other questions? You, in the white.

0:50:24 S1: Have you guys tried working with other programs or recovery methods, like SMART, Rational Recovery, Lifeline, or Welcome to Recovery, and still found AA more helpful?

0:50:37 Ian: Yeah. Actually, I have tried SMART Recovery, and it just, for some reason, it didn’t really fit with me. I think that I attribute that to all… The various in-patient programs that I went to were very 12-step oriented. And so, that seemed a applicable path to me. However, being that they were 12-step oriented, they were pretty rooted in the traditional sense of AA. And so, for me, it was more about trying to find something that worked for me that I could translate and practically apply, and that would be parallel and congruent with how I actually felt in my personal ideals. I found that AA was the most that ironically, in a way, the best fit for me, because the roots and everything that I’ve looked at for a lot of a… Or a lot of… Or, at least, the principles in AA, they’re actually pretty secular.

0:51:32 Ian: And so, for me, I was able to identify with that, and those aspects of it, and apply that to me. SMART Recovery, honestly I really didn’t like how… I think some of the… How everything is a bad habit, in that, or that was a promoted idea how everything was a bad habit, because my drinking wasn’t a bad habit. I absolutely have no control when I drink. The only thing I want to do is drink more. And for me, that’s not necessarily a habit that didn’t really get to the root of the issues. It was a very brief experience with SMART Recovery, I will admit, it was very, very brief, but there were just some things in there that I didn’t fundamentally agree with. I do think there are useful things like the CBD, or… Yeah, congruent, CPT.


0:52:25 Angela: That’s a different thing. A different panel.

0:52:27 Ian: Different panel.


0:52:29 Ian: That are useful in that, but I do think that those are congruent with AA as well.

0:52:33 Angela: Yeah. And I haven’t attended, but some people from our group do both. I know one person who says that he goes to SMART for the structure, he prefers that, but he comes to our meeting for the fellowship and community. And then we also have several members that do Refuge Recovery as well. So, I think they’re compatible. It just, again, depends on what works for the individual and our group’s very open to all sorts of things. We don’t think we have the solution for everybody, and statistics would prove that. Any other questions?

0:53:11 Willow: My name’s Willow, I’m an addict.

0:53:13 Group: Hi Willow.

0:53:15 Willow: So, I’m curious. I don’t know how many people here go to traditional meetings or secular meetings, so I don’t know if we’re preaching to the choir here, so to speak. But I’m curious if any of you had experiences with newcomers or people who haven’t been to AA before coming to secular meetings and sharing how significant it’s been for them to have that path to get into AA. Because I think that people that only go to traditional meetings maybe don’t hear that story. I think a lot of people don’t even get our doors because they looked at what we’re about and they have a preconceived notion and I think people don’t hit our doors and die because they don’t know that, until you get in and hopefully talk to somebody who can teach you to have a translator. You don’t know that this thing will work for you if you are already convinced that you’re not goinng to believe it. So I’m curious if you’ve had experiences.

0:54:17 Angela: Jeff, do you want to start?

0:54:19 Jeff: Yeah. I’ve had a couple of sponsees tell me, in some cases we’ll hear stories of, “I tried AA. I went to one AA meeting on four or five different occasions over the last decade. Every time I was unwilling to continue because of the ‘God’ language and now I’m here, and I feel like I finally have a home in AA.” I’ve heard that story. I’ve heard people who, like myself, who avoided AA because of some of the language, until they found our meeting. But I think the story I hear very commonly is people, they get started in traditional meetings, and in some cases they are openly atheist or agnostic from the outset, in other cases they go on with the crowd. And at some point in their sobriety, they hit a point where they just felt like they couldn’t do it anymore, similar to Jerrica’s story. They felt they weren’t able to work an honest program, and that brought them to our door. But I agree, I hope that as an organization we can have secular meetings in a lot of different geographies. I think we owe it to our potential members and to the still suffering alcoholic can have that option. There are lots of options, right? Smoking/non-smoking, we don’t have any of those anymore.


0:55:46 Jeff: There’s men’s meetings, there’s women’s meetings, there’s LGBT meetings, there’s all kinds of meetings now. I think it’s reasonable to have an abundance of secular meetings, and to accept them as genuine AA meetings.

0:56:00 Angela: Ian, do you want to go?

0:56:01 Ian: I think Jeff answered him.

0:56:02 Jerrica: Yeah.

0:56:04 Angela: Okay. Yeah?

0:56:07 Jeff: I’m not sure, but I might feel that we might be getting short on time and…

0:56:11 Angela: Yeah. A few more minutes.

0:56:12 S15: I was going to propose if there’s a need for a longer discussion, if there’s some people that are interested, we could find a place and have a small discussion if people want to pursue that discussion.

0:56:27 Angela: Yeah. If you like to meet them…

0:56:29 S15: Afterward, if people…

[overlapping conversation]

0:56:30 Angela: In the lobby afterwards, then I think that several of us…

0:56:34 S15: I have a bunch of things. But…

0:56:36 Angela: Yeah.

0:56:37 Angela: Yeah. No. I’ll be in the lobby, so if people have questions. And then, depending on their work schedules and stuff. Yeah, we can talk. I think we have time for one more. Yeah?

0:56:50 S15: Maybe I’d like to share one thing…

0:56:52 Angela: Okay.

0:56:53 S15: To me, my experience has been, when I came in, people were saying, “This is what you gotta do, you gotta find something.” It’s everyone’s experience. And the richness of AA is that there are many different interpretation of what a higher power can be, when can they come for you, and that we respect each other’s views and that we can learn from those. So for me, at some point, I was researching a lot. When I went to school, and at the university we studied some philosophy. And some philosophers, the first time when they were trying to bring God out of the social structure, and the idea that they were going forward, really… So, continuing in AA, I was listening to the message, and just interpreting it in more of a psychological way of what’s happening to the experience that people are living and trying to connect… When they talk to the power that is so powerful that it can take everything away from you, can I believe in Step 6 that all the things in my life, there can be a change that can happen. The Step 2 part, the simplest way to get started, and…

[overlapping conversation]

0:59:09 Angela: Yeah. Well, thank you. So we are out of time. And if you would like to stand up and close, we’ll close with this little thing.

[background conversation]

0:59:24 Angela: Further discussion will be in the lobby.

0:59:27 S16: It can be in Room 428 which is the suite, so.

0:59:31 Angela: Okay. Okay.

[background conversation]

0:59:46 Angela: Alright. We formed the shape to symbolize we can do together what we can’t do alone.


0:59:52 Group: I put my hand in yours. And together we can do what I could never do alone.

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Peter T.
2 years ago

Angela replied on Facebook:  “It’s something the young people do at the WACYPAA conferences. It’s like the keep coming back chant, only they do it at the beginning.”

Peter T.
2 years ago

I applaud the effort and carrying the message, thanks to all for the service.  I have to comment, however –


I’ve been to meetings in a few different places around the US but I’ve never heard anything approaching this

“Hi, xxxx. We love you, xxxx, lots and lots and lots, in whole bunches! Hoo-wah!”

business.  Frankly, I found that kind of creepy.  It sounded like elementary school and/or a cult.  Is this a widespread practice where this was recorded?

2 years ago

Thanks to these speakers, and thank you John for putting up this event. To my recollection this is about the first thing I have seen on our websites specifically addressing young people and their (not all that different) issues, but the energy is really good, recovery is fresh, and their enthusiasm for recovery is really inspiring. And it’s the young people who are going to carry AA on, and we need to turn it over to them instead of it all being run by septuagenarians like the government. We know how badly that works for the most part, and with… Read more »

Jerry Finnigan
Jerry Finnigan
2 years ago

Thank all three of you for putting on this panel. I think that it is very important in the development of our movement to seek for opportunities to be seen and heard in conventional AA meetings, roundups, conventions, etc. Not to try to persuade the die-hard believers but to show the newcomers that there is another way to achieve and maintain sobriety without even leaving AA. Jerrica: As you probably know, we have meetings every week in Mesa. And in Tempe and Gilbert. The one in your home town of Mesa is small and it tends to be more conversational… Read more »