Brookvale and Burwood

How can anyone describe what AA means to them, what their sobriety has done for them? Can the answer be found in literature whether it be theistic, atheistic or scientific? Or perhaps the answer can be found online. If anyone asks me this question, the best response I can give is to take them to an AA meeting and let the meeting speak for itself.

Meetings are where I find the life-saving and life changing fellowship of Alcoholics Anonymous. A fellowship of alcoholics where I feel that unique affinity with other alcoholics in my tribe. It is this human power of fellowship that drives my sobriety. The following is a recount of two meetings I attended over two sequential days that typify my sobriety experience in AA. I have used fictitious names for members mentioned to protect their anonymity.

 Brookvale Secular ID, 12:00 noon, Monday 17th June 2019

 We only had four in attendance at Brookvale today because of the heavy rain. For some reason, when it rains in Sydney, alcoholics don’t like to get wet and the meeting attendance numbers drop dramatically. Rebecca shook her head at this phenomenon saying, “When I was drinking, if I knew about someplace that had free grog, I would have walked through a blizzard to get it”. But the rain didn’t stop the four attending today, two men and two women. Small meetings like today tend to be much more intimate with longer shares that are much more personal. I felt privileged to be in a room with these other three sober alcoholics as we transformed what was just an empty room, four walls, ceiling and floor into an AA sobriety space.

The men arrived in cars, no big deal really, but the women Cath and Rebecca deserve a special mention. Cath is eighty-four, sober forty-six years, recently recovered from an operation for bowl cancer and arrived at the meeting via public transport carrying two shopping bags full of groceries having done her shopping on the way. She is slight in build and you would be making a grave mistake to assume she is a pushover. She knows her mind and can speak it too. Rebecca, the other lady is in her mid-sixties and coming up to four years sober. Eighteen months ago, she was bowled over in a shopping mall by a bloke in a hurry who wasn’t watching where he was running. She fractured her leg in two places, had metal plates inserted into her one leg and has had a very slow, painful recovery. Despite intensive physiotherapy and rehabilitation, she is left with a limp and long-walks can be painful. She had a twenty-minute walk in the rain to get to the meeting but heavy rain doesn’t deter her when it comes to going to AA.

Both of these wonderful women typify the sobriety I look for in AA. They both want sobriety and are prepared to go to any lengths to get it. They demonstrate this through attendance at meetings plus the all-important factor of contributing to the well-being of the meeting. When the meeting ended, 84-year-old Cath picked up the chairs and stacked them ready for collection while Rebecca made a B-line to the kitchen, cleaned up and packed our literature away.

As for belief or lack of belief in god the four attendees were very diverse. Cath has a faith but is very private about it. She says to me, “You know I’m not one of your mob (atheist) but I support this meeting because I love coming here”. She has become one of our staunchest supporters and defenders in the local area AA and will not tolerate any criticism of our group. Rebecca is an agnostic; she doesn’t believe in her childhood god but says “I know there is something there but I don’t know what it is”. She too is one of our staunchest supporters and defenders in the local area.

Nick has a very profound faith with a theistic sobriety and belief in god whom he believes intervened in his life by bringing him into contact with two sober AA members who offered to take him to AA. And the author was a former Catholic and ‘altar boy who altered’ and is now an atheist with a fellowship based secular sobriety.

None of these differences mattered today as we were all just interested in staying sober and helping each other to do so. ‘Our primary purpose is to stay sober and help other alcoholics to achieve sobriety.’

Burwood 1:00 pm Tuesday 18th June 2019

Burwood is a well-established traditional Sydney ID (identification) meeting with alcoholics sharing in a general way what they used to be like, what happened and what it’s like now. As is typical on arrival at the meeting, I was greeted with kindness and received a warm handshake and welcome from two of the group members, ‘Garbo’ Des (used to drive a garbage truck) and Bevin. They had put out all the chairs, put up the banners and got the meeting set up. I found Mandy in the kitchen as usual preparing for the meeting. She had the coffee and tea ready plus spring rolls in the oven heating up. Meat pies where laid out on a tray ready to be heated up in the oven half way through the meeting for distribution to anyone still hungry.

There were about twenty in attendance with various lengths of sobriety, six of them I have known for twenty plus years and there was easily 200 plus years of sobriety experience in the room. You can feel the calmness of it in the shares, they have been there, done that, dealt with a variety of life problems (heaps of them) but have not had to pick up a drink to get through any of it. You rarely, if ever hear the Big Book being quoted. Education levels of most in attendance would be limited I would guess but the group members know how to make a newcomer welcome and offer them hope. When I first attended Burwood in 1996 that is what I found and even though almost all of the older sober members I met at that time are now dead, their message of kindness and hope is alive and well.

While Brookvale and Burwood are quite different in style and format, secular versus theistic, they both share the same atmosphere of hope and kindness. It’s the human power of AA members putting chairs out, banners up, setting up the kitchen, paying the rent and most importantly offering the physical, welcoming handshake of fellowship that keeps the show on the road.

I am a member of AA by the third tradition, I don’t want to drink anymore. I’m an alcoholic on my say so, no one else’s. I stay sober by not picking up the first drink one day at a time, attending as many meetings of AA as I need to and doing service work that suits me. My sobriety is a lot easier if I remember to keep it simple, take it easy and make haste slowly.


About the Author

After eighteen years of sobriety, PJ realised he didn’t believe in god, triggering a shift from theistic to secular sobriety. In recent years he came to the conclusion that it was simply the human power of fellowship found in AA meetings that had got him sober and continues to keep him sober.

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Thomas B.
Thomas B.

Thanks PJ for a fine article about both a secular and a traditional AA meeting in Sydney, way down under . . .

Doris A
Doris A

PJ, I always, always love the pieces you write. This was a great article. You do a stellar job describing the cast of charters and in illustrating that some “traditional” meetings” have qualities that make them a “good meeting”, one that secular folks could feel comfortable in. One thing we do in my secular home group (Many Paths in central Illinois) is that a part of our script states that people should talk to someone after the meeting if they are interested in learning about other meetings and/or sponsorship (along with getting a list of phone numbers, being put on… Read more »

PJ
PJ

Thanks Doris, it is beneficial for us to attend theistic meetings in addition to secular meetings. It gives perspective, spreads the secular word and generally helps with inclusivity (although not always possible). Length of secular sobriety is an issue I agree, but I found decades of it in spades in North American secular meetings. Another interesting finding in Sydney theistic meetings is some members I have known for decades tell me that they are atheist but don’t want to rock the boat by publicly saying so. Were they to participate in secular meetings that would give us some of that… Read more »

life-j
life-j

have to just go put yourselves out there all the more. It can be done gently, by merely stating the fact at every reasonable opportunity, and not doing much else, or it can be done with adamant advocacy like I’m doing. Both work. My way gives a lot of blowback for a while, but eventually they come around. Just recently in my favorite tortuous meeting someone started wrapping up the meeting with the LP, and other than myself, several people spoke up and said no this is an AA meeting – way different outcome than similar situation a year or… Read more »

Lance Bredvold
Lance Bredvold

Your description of these calm, supportive, meetings sets me up well for my meeting this morning. Of course it helps that I was at Brookvale and can picture the room and people. You did not describe the coffee afterward which I presume is also part of the picture as it was the day I was there. It really seems that much of the magic of AA is in those elder statespersons who simply persevere with meetings. And the women especially. Somehow they seem to have a gift for sticking to the essentials and making everyone feel comfortable. I guess that… Read more »

PJ
PJ

Thanks Lance, you are right about my not describing having coffee downstairs in the food court afterwards. We didn’t get to go on the day as all four of us needed to head off straight after the meeting but the meeting after the meeting can be just as important, if not more so to sobriety than the meeting itself. I spent six weeks in North America last year attending many secular AA meetings and experienced the same human power of fellowship and associated calmness in meetings. I found secular AA in the US to be much more established with far… Read more »