Episode 117: Taking Steps

This is the first in a series of episodes dedicated to understanding and working the Twelve Steps as an atheist, agnostic, freethinker, or anyone interested in a secular approach to the Twelve Steps. Angela B. from the Agnostics, Atheists, and All Others group in Boise, Idaho will bring her insight and perspective as co-host with John S. for the duration of the series. In this episode, Angela and John discuss their own personal experiences with the Steps, and how they may approach upcoming episodes.   

Transcript

00:00 John S: This is AA Beyond Belief, episode 117.

[music]

00:24 John S: In today’s episode, I’ll be speaking with Angela B from the Agnostics, Atheists, and All Others group, in Boise, Idaho. Angela will be my co-host over the next several months as we explore the 12 steps from a secular perspective. This is our opening episode to introduce the series.

00:40 John S: Hey Angela, how you doing?

00:44 Angela B: Good, how are you?

00:45 John S: Good, it’s nice to have you here. You know, you and I were, I guess, instant messaging not too long ago, after that podcast episode I did where we were talking about ideas for upcoming episodes, and you suggested that maybe you might like to go through the steps, and I thought that would be a good idea, getting a female perspective. Maybe today, we can talk about that a little bit, what we might want to do and our general experience with the steps, that kind of thing.

01:15 Angela B: That sounds great.

01:16 John S: Should we start, maybe, if you just kind of give us a little bit of background, of yourself?

01:20 Angela B: Okay, great, yeah, yeah. Well, my background starts when I was a pre-teen. My family had some difficulties, and my mom got into some therapy and some self-help groups, and so I started Alateen, and so I have some experience of the program when I was younger, and then going on through life. I wasn’t a drinker, I did medicate with food, though, so some of my experience with the steps comes from working in Over Eaters Anonymous when I was a teenager, so we’ll probably talk about that a little bit as we go through. That was when I first found The Alternative 12 Steps: A Secular Guide and tried to use that in a way. It didn’t go very well at that time, but it was helpful to me. And then it wasn’t until I was in my early 30s, and had taken away, via gastric bypass, the ability to medicate myself with food, that I turned to alcohol, and then yeah, it was really a quick slide down once I had made that shift.

02:45 Angela B: And so yeah, so then I started in AA here in Boise, Idaho, and when I started there, there were no secular groups. But I was very straightforward from the beginning about being atheist, and so people kind of pointed me in the direction of a more open-minded group, and that’s where I found somebody who was Buddhist who became my sponsor, and we used The Alternative 12 steps: A Secular Guide as my main guide. She had had not seen it before, but she had kind of figured out a way to work a program that made sense to her, and the biggest thing was that she spoke kind of the same language I did about life, and she could translate the steps in a way that made sense to me, so that not only was it working for me, but I could attend meetings, traditional meetings and still be a part of those meetings and still be able to participate, and that was important to me and for my recovery. So yeah.

03:56 Angela B: Over the years, we did start our secular group in Boise, and then I started sponsoring people, and I switched sponsors and worked the steps again with somebody else and got another perspective on them from doing that. And so, in that, I’ve kind of created something that makes sense for me that I take other people through. So yeah, so that’s kind of my experience with the steps, and I’m always looking to see different alternatives and understand them differently. The other thing about my experience is that, I don’t just sponsor secular people. The person that I’ve sponsored the longest is actually a Latter-Day Saint, and we’ve been working together for nine years now. And at first, I kept trying to give her the option of working with somebody else because I wasn’t going to share how this was going to work, because she’s also older than me, but yeah, it’s worked out well, and it’s been very helpful to me and reminding me to try to stay with, what is the point of these steps, why am I doing them, why am I trying to help this person do them, and what might be helpful for them to get out of it, rather than just translating from the book to Secularism, you know? Because that’s one of the reasons why I was looking for secular stuff, is so that it would help me and people like me, but sometimes I need to help other people, and sometimes they’re not like me, so it’s important for me to be able to do that.

05:38 John S: Wow, that’s a really interesting perspective that you have, and it’s a lot different from mine. I was in the mold of that stupid Big Book. It was like, I was in this group for such a long time, where it was Big Book, Big Book, Big Book, Big Book, pound in your brain. And I just wrote a piece I published last weekend that when I read it, it makes me sad at how I really contorted myself to conform to what everybody wanted me to do and say. And when I first looked at that book, it made absolutely no sense to me, but I didn’t know that I could do what you did, that there was another way of just kind of reading it straight. So anyway, so the first time that we were going through the steps on this podcast, we were actually reading from the 12 and 12 and interpreting it, like we were reading another language or something. You know?

06:34 Angela B: Right.

06:35 John S: And it’s like why even bother with that? And so we’re doing a step meeting here in Kansas City and at first I thought, “Okay, it might be nice for these new people who’ve never been to an AA meeting to at least know what the big book is and what’s in it, but now I’m even beginning to question that, to be honest with you, because it is so frustrating for them to read some of that stuff. I don’t know if I want to torment them any further with it when why is it even necessary? I don’t know. So. So I kind of like that you had that experience, you went straight to an alternative version.

07:09 Angela B: Right. Yeah, no, my first sponsor didn’t even have me get a big book. I did on my… I did on my own, just because again there weren’t any secular meetings and I really, really needed that kind of support because when I came in, I had just left… Well, one of the things that I had convinced a counselor was that I was a social drinker not like my parents who were alcoholics because I drink out in public. And so, I still needed to be around people and so that was important for my recovery. So, I was going to two meetings at least a day, probably for the first couple of years. So, I was bought into the more meetings recovery type of idea, but I still disagreed with a lot of what was being said. So yeah, so my sponsor didn’t have me read the book, I read the book, just so that I could communicate with other people in AA. And again, early on, I was kind of using the same thing that I did when I left my faith was that, then I used the Bible to beat other Christians over the head with. And so, some of my reading the big book was not just to get something for me, it was to argue with other people who tried to tell me that I couldn’t get sober without God.

08:38 Angela B: So yeah, so my reading of it, in my first, first year or so was mainly just to yeah for that, to argue. I didn’t do any underlining, or any of that kind of stuff. My second sponsor, I asked her about that at one point because I had a sponsee who was struggling and who was going to meetings that, that was a big thing in the meeting. Is that they all talked about that, and everybody did that, and if you didn’t do that, you would ultimately drink and die. And it always makes me laugh when I hear that. You’ll drink and die. That’s automatically. Anyway. And so, she really wanted to know why they were doing that and why I didn’t do that and if it would be helpful. And so my second sponsor kind of took me through it, and what we did as an exercise, is I just wrote down a difficulty that I was having some sort of problem that I was running through my head, and then I went through and I underlined my beliefs about it and then highlighted certain directions or things that my mind thought were important about that, and then that helped me understand the system that was being used.

09:52 Angela B: And so, then I could help this other person if she wanted to try that so that she felt like she was versed in that kind of method of doing the big book, and so yeah so that helped her out. She felt a part of her meeting again and was able to continue on and be in sobriety. So yeah.

10:14 John S: For a long time at my home group here, we went through a period of time, quite a lengthy time I think, where we really weren’t talking about the steps very much. And at first, in fact, what would happen we had had these meetings where it was basically someone come up with a topic, and it was just a topic they took out of their head. And sometimes, I would have to kind of struggle to figure out, “Okay, how am I going to relate this to this or that?” But after a while, and this went on for quite some time, I noticed that people were staying sober, they were making friends, their lives were getting better, they were enjoying the meetings and things just seem to be just fine. And so, some of the older members would come around and they’d say, “Well we should be doing this or that with steps and readings and all this, so forth but it’s like, “Well look, people are staying sober, they’re happy.” But, then much to my surprise some people said, “Yeah I would be interested in learning about the steps.” It was like… It seems like there is a need or a want or some benefit out of having some sort of structure, I guess.

11:14 John S: So that’s why we started… We started having a step meeting. And I think initially I was taking it too far, I was really, I was really making it like a college class or something. And I’ve kind of… I’ve kind of let up on that a little bit. I’d give people assignments, I’d say, “Hey go read this or go… ” It’s like… I don’t know. [chuckle] But that’s my background. I came from that kind of way of thinking, and it’s hard for me to break out of that mold sometimes.

11:41 Angela B: Right. Yeah. Yeah. For our meetings, we don’t generally talk about the steps as being the way to sobriety. Most of us, if we have the experience of working through the steps, we talk about how that relates to whatever the topic is, like in most traditional meetings, I think. But it’s very rare that we’re like, this meeting is about step seven…

12:10 John S: Exactly.

12:10 Angela B: Or something like that.

12:11 John S: And I think most meetings are that way. Even traditional meetings. Hardly ever do you… Unless it’s a meeting specifically dedicated to a step discussion usually. But…

12:20 Angela B: Yeah. Well, I think it really depends, I know in our area there are some that I think are more influenced by the big book thumpers or the back-to-basics people or something.

12:33 John S: Back to basics people.

12:34 Angela B: Yeah, where in the meeting. It’s you hear somebody who is an old timer. And oftentimes in those meetings, it’s somebody with three years, [chuckle] who says, you know, this meeting, I’m not getting much out of this meeting, I want a solutions-based meeting. And yeah, so there’s definitely… You have to be talking about a step, in order to have any authority on sobriety in there. And so, I don’t go to a lot of those meetings, but sometimes when I have somebody new who is either required by the state to attend a lot of meetings and would like to have somebody there with them or, you know, that’s just kind of the meeting that they’re drawn to, I’ll go and it still surprises me to hear that because I get so used to our meeting, which is not like that at all, you know? Sometimes it gets to the point in our meeting, where I’m like, “Wow, if somebody from a traditional meeting were visiting or meeting tonight, they might have some real questions. I could see how some people might be like, “Is this actually AA?” Because we’ll have discussions about medical marijuana, or CBD oil, or any of the other things that in traditional meetings are generally not talked about, but at our meeting we do.

13:58 Angela B: We’ve had meetings on safety before, so when the whole safety card came up, we had a meeting and people talked about the different things that they’ve seen or been uncomfortable with, you know, stuff like people being taken advantage of for money, or sponsors saying, you have to clean my car or mow my lawn, you know, as part of the sponsorship program and I’m like, “I’m pretty sure that that’s not in the steps but… ” But yeah, things like that. And so it wasn’t just a lot of times we hear in safety about predatory behavior sexually, or you know, that kind of stuff, but yeah, this topic was on safety and people brought up all sorts of ideas that… Things that they’ve seen and concerns they have. And for those of us who’d been there at least a decade, it was really good to hear, because sometimes I think we see it, but in our culture, it’s been that we don’t talk about it or the person will figure it out, or a small group will talk to somebody else or whatever, but it’s never been brought to light in such a way. And so, yeah, so that was a really cool meeting. I thought that… And it just kind of…

15:14 John S: That’s a good idea, to have that for a topic.

15:15 Angela B: Yeah, and I’ve never heard of a meeting topic. I know people have discussed it in business meeting and other things, but this was just somebody wanted to talk about it, and it was one of the better meetings that we’ve had, was talking about that.

15:29 John S: I think that’s a good idea.

15:30 Angela B: Yeah.

15:31 John S: We actually brought that up at our business meeting, the topic, and basically, what I heard from people is that, “Oh we don’t have this problem in our group, we don’t have this problem in our group.” And I think that kind of shuts the conversation down, because there could be people out there who have had the problem in that group, or had it in other groups, and it’s a real concern of theirs. So maybe having it were, it’s like a sharing of experiences, it’s better.

15:53 Angela B: Yeah, what is your experience? And the topic can go along the lines of spiritual bullying, as well as safety, because of the people that I’ve sponsored, the reason they got to our group was that they had attended a meeting and were told after the meeting, that if they weren’t ready to talk about God, they weren’t ready to get sober, you know? And so… Yeah, so to me, that’s considered a bullying issue. And so then they come to our meeting, and then on the other hand, in our meeting, during that safety meeting, we also talked a little bit about how sometimes our meeting can sound bully-ish or it can sound less tolerant of traditional AA, and for the most part, we’re at a spot, you know, we get about 30 people at our meetings, and where there’s enough sobriety in there to balance that out. Because oftentimes, it’s a newer person who is either new to sobriety and still very angry, or somebody who’s been sober for a long time, but feels like they aren’t allowed to express their secular beliefs. And so, yeah, so sometimes the first meetings or first couple of meetings they come to of ours, they’re venting their frustration and anger, and so yeah, usually, we’re able to kind of balance that off. But there have been a couple of times when people from the regular community have visited our meeting and heard that and then left.

17:22 John S: Oh yeah, it would be a shock for them to hear that.

17:24 Angela B: Yeah, yeah, left with being a bit… Yeah, biased. So, yeah, it was important for the safety talk to have that brought up, because it does happen, and it helps us to be aware of how we’re sharing our experience, strength and hope, and how that is perceived by others. So yeah, all around, I think it’s a great topic, and yeah. The steps came into that a little bit in the group autonomy, and because with safety, some people felt that there’s a group autonomy aspect to that, of whether or not the group asks somebody to leave or not leave based on their behavior. And so, yeah, so it was interesting. I highly recommend it.

18:11 John S: So, you know, for the majority of my life, unbelievably, I’ve been in AA. And I was fairly young. I guess I was in my 20s, and so this is the map they gave me, I guess. These are the directions they gave me. And so, for most of my life, this is how… This is what I’ve relied on to get me through tough times, to help me solve problems, to help me think. Over the last five years, since I have been approaching these principles from a more secular, practical way, they’ve been even more helpful to me. I am careful. I remember meetings, going to meetings and listening to people beat themselves up because they didn’t think they were doing this right or that right, because there was that certain sense that “I’m happy, therefore… I’m happy, I’m well, life is great, therefore I’m doing the steps right” and then the other person is saying “God, my life is a mess, I must not be doing them right. So I always felt like, when we first started our group, any time I would have any sort of discussion about the steps, I’d always have some caution, like, “Hey, these… [chuckle] You don’t have to do these perfect, you just don’t worry about it.”

19:30 John S: They’re not a magical elixir, but I don’t know. I was reading the introductory pages of The Alternative 12 Steps book, and I really like the way that that written, that they were so gentle with the approach. And they made it clear something that I truly believe, that this is really an intensely personal and individual experience. And I think that that’s really important for people to understand that all a person can do is share their own experience with it, which that understanding of that experience is going to change over time anyway, so yeah.

20:06 Angela B: Yeah. No, I totally get that. And I was looking over some of my journals before we started. And that a lot of the feedback that I received [chuckle] from my sponsor at the time was that you don’t have to do this perfectly. And so, I think that’s pretty common, common for us. And it’s possibly because the stakes are so high when we get here. We’re in such emotional pain that there’s a fear that if we don’t do this right, we’ll directly go back to that. And so, I think hearing that, yeah, there isn’t a perfect way to do this is important. And I know that I didn’t realize that I had a perfectionist tendency before I got here, because my life wasn’t going great so obviously, I’m not a perfectionist [chuckle]. Otherwise, [chuckle] my life would be going great. But I did find that I have this critical part of my brain that like to point out all the stuff that I could be doing better. And so, I think going through the steps helped a little bit with that because it helped me to get perspective.

21:16 Angela B: Because all that I really had was this critical part of my brain and other things, society I guess, telling me that I’m messing up and I’m not doing well. And so, I found in this structured way how to, I guess diffuse that a little bit and how to get perspective in there and to remember that there are multiple perspectives. So, if I’m in a “all or nothing kind” of thinking and I hear something like an “always” or a “never” going through my brain, that yeah, maybe I need to slow down and look at some things. And I don’t think I had that before. I feel like I was introspective before, but it was always extremely critical. And so, I think that’s one of the reasons why I wanted to do this with you, particularly to show a woman’s point of view going through the steps, because I found that step four can be extremely difficult for women.

22:12 Angela B: And depending on their sponsor and their sponsor’s understanding of the steps and step four, it can actually be really, really detrimental. because for, well, I guess I’d say it’s for most of us in general, but particularly for women, we don’t need the ego deflation that [chuckle] Bill and Bob did. Oftentimes, we come in very, very deflated already. And so yeah, so the idea of going through and figuring out our part of a lot of the life circumstances that we’ve been through, it seems pretty depressing and like it’s not going to be helpful. And so being able to take people through and show them the ways that it can be, how that can change and stuff, yeah, I think has… It has been helpful to me and I see a lot of people changing and finding more hope for some happiness in their life, so.

23:09 John S: It’s funny when you think about it. Bill Wilson and the gang were writing about this program that the whole idea was to reduce self-centeredness or eliminate self-centeredness, whatever, and yet they assumed that everybody was like them, everybody.

[laughter]

23:25 Angela B: Everybody needed the same thing. So, yeah.

23:28 John S: Yeah.

23:29 Angela B: I was also thinking about this in Alateen, I remember hearing a lot that when I actually came into AA, I didn’t hear at all. And so, this was in the late ’80s and early ’90s. At a lot of meetings, I heard, “Take what you want and leave the rest.” And I don’t hear that in [chuckle] meetings very much these days. It seems like people are much more of a “You have to do this, this and this. And if you’re not working the steps, then forget it”, or, “If you’re not doing service, then forget it.” And yeah, and I really liked the “Take what you want and leave the rest.” And I think having that when I got here was probably a good portion of what helped me, was that I knew that that existed. And so, when people said, “Oh, you’re, sometimes, you’re going to have to say the Lord’s Prayer at the end with us.” I’d be like, “No, no I’m not.” I know that you’re new to this, being that you’ve been here in the last decade, but there was a time when they said, “Take what you want and leave the rest.”, which meant that this is a suggestion and so I can use the stuff that’s helpful to me.

24:33 Angela B: So, I wanted to put that out there for doing this with you because there are probably going to be some things in these steps as we talk about them that I do with people that other people will not find helpful. And that’s fine, you don’t have to do any of these things the way that you and I talk about them, you don’t have to do them at all. But we’re just putting out what our experience has been and is continuing to be. Because in thinking about this to talk to you, I wrote down some of the stuff that came to mind of how I work the steps or understood the steps or taken people through the steps, and that I’m excited about this because my understanding’s evolving. And my experience in AA and my experience in therapy, that all comes to play with how I understand the steps as well, because I understand how the brain works a little bit better than I did when I started in recovery. And so, I can see how some of the different aspects of how we do the steps work with the way that our brains work. And so yeah, so all of that comes into play. And yeah, if there’s something that I say that you don’t agree with, then you don’t have to do that. [chuckle]

25:51 Angela B: So putting that out there, because yeah, I found that I sometimes can tick off people on both sides of our AA spectrum, people who are traditional sometimes get upset with the way that I work at a secular program and that I continually say that I’m atheist at meetings, and they’re like, “Do you have to say that every time?” And I’m like, “Well, yes, I do, because there are people in the meeting who may be atheist and feel like they can’t be there because they didn’t hear anybody say that during the entire meeting.” And then I have people that are in some secular areas that feel that I’m too middle of the road, and they would like to see something completely different, which is great, there’s lots of completely different stuff out there, so I’m all for that. I just share what my experience is and how things are from my point of view, and if somebody can get something out of that, cool, and if not, then yeah, hopefully, they’ll create or find something else that works better and share that as well.

26:56 John S: And maybe as we go through this, we can figure out a way to get some interaction from people who are listening to the podcast, get some kind of comments from them or their experience with it as well. I know that when Ben and I were going through the steps, those were some of the more listened-to podcasts. There was a real craving out there, I think, from people who are looking for a secular path and aren’t finding it in AA meetings, and most of them are fairly new to AA and recovery, and they don’t even know where to begin with interpreting it. So, having these podcasts where people can listen to this is very, very helpful and meaningful to them.

27:37 Angela B: No, I think that’s great, and I’m very hopeful about that too, because I have noticed in some of the online discussions that there are quite a few people who are living in areas where there aren’t any secular meetings, and trying to get to them is like a four-hour drive, and that some people will drive as far as they can for a meeting when they can. But yeah, so if there’s a way to… Again, the way that I take people through the steps is, I’m usually trying to help them to be able to participate in AA meetings, any kind of AA meeting so that they can talk about their experience and strength and hope in a way that makes them part of… Because we only have two meetings currently in this area that are secular and a lot of people… I know that I needed a lot more than that when I first got sober, and so it would have been nice to have more secular meetings, but since there wasn’t, it also would have been nice to hear more secular ideas and experience, and if I can help people be able to feel more secure in the way that they’re doing the steps so that they can share at meetings and not feel afraid or feel like an outsider, then yeah, that’s part of my goal in doing this with you.

28:55 John S: Yeah, I don’t know for sure, but I think it might be a little bit more rigid in meetings now than even it was 10 years ago or whatever. I just have that idea, because whenever I do speak with somebody who is fairly a new person in AA, the way that they’re talking to me about the program is even harsher and more strict than what I came up with, and that was pretty strict. So yeah, it’s weird. So, I can understand if someone is aware of, and independent in their thought that, they’re just not going to be able to tolerate that. So yeah, this is good for them to see that, yeah, there’s hope, there’s another way of approaching this. And I guess it would be good too, if it were possible for people to feel comfortable in meetings in their localities that they could maybe learn to, but again, that’s not necessary either, but yeah, I don’t know. Part of me feels kind of sad that people aren’t comfortable in AA meetings, but I think that’s sometimes the truth.

30:00 Angela B: Yeah, yeah, yeah. And I think it takes time, too, once you get a little more comfortable with your sobriety, then because I visit Christine city, California regularly, my partner’s mother lives there, and it’s very small, it’s in a very poor county, I think it’s the poorest county in the state. And so, the AA meetings there, I’ve only been to a couple, but they tend to be very much of the, AA… The Big Book is the divine written word of Bill and Bob, and blah, blah, blah. And so I’ve attended it, and the first one that I went to, it wasn’t written in the meeting list that it was a Big Book study, but it turned out to be, and the chapter they were reading happened to be, [chuckle], We Agnostics.

30:54 John S: Oh joy.

30:55 Angela B: And yeah, so I was like, seriously? But I sat there and listened to what people had to say, and then of course because I was new there, they called on me, and so I shared my perspective and my experience, strength, and hope, as we were supposed to. And people were, one, surprised, but two, usually, I indicate that I’ve been sober for a little bit, and that helps some, in that I’m not challenged as much usually on my sharing and things. Also, one of the things that I like about AA meetings that doesn’t happen on online forums, is that you really are encouraged to share your experience, strength, and hope, and so you really can’t argue with somebody’s experience. You can say [chuckle] that that’s not your experience, but I find in the online forums there’s often an argument of that and that’s not helpful. And so, yeah. [chuckle]

32:08 John S: I know, it drives me crazy. I left almost every single Facebook group that had to do with AA, because people had to debate me all the time, like I’m not here to debate, my experience is not up for debate.

32:19 Angela B: Right, exactly. And so, yeah, so for me, I don’t feel uncomfortable even if the meeting that I’ve attended is a Big Book meeting or a thing like that. I’m comfortable enough in my sobriety. Yeah, so hopefully by talking about the steps in a variety of ways those people that can’t get to secular meetings will be able to, because usually when I go into a meeting, I don’t go in and say, “Hey this is how it’s really done,” or, “Your way of doing it is dumb or even harmful to people unless somebody says something that really is I’m harmful,” like… Yeah. About abuse or something like that that you have to forgive that kind of a thing, then I’ll say that, yeah, their interpretation of the fourth step might need reviewing. But in general, I’m able to share on the same topic, but use secular language and most of the time after the meetings, people come up to me and say, “Hey, I’ve never looked at it that way before. That’s really helpful.” And there are people who have lots of time in AA. They just are so used to the traditional AA speak that hearing something in a secular way, it actually is more helpful to them than what they usually hear. So yeah. If people listening to this are able to do that afterwards, then that’s going to be a big plus for AA around the country or world.

33:53 John S: Sure. And I’m thinking, as we go through this, it’s probably not so important if we use any particular book or anything. We could maybe just bring our own experiences to it and talk about different books that we use or whatever. I don’t know. What do you think along those lines? How do you think we should approach it as we got through this?

34:11 Angela B: Yeah. No. I think that that’s great. I use a couple of different books when I’m sponsoring anyway, so I mainly use the Alternative 12 Steps because that’s the one that I’ve been familiar with the longest, and it’s usually a good starting point with the people I work with. Some people do have a, they have a little bit of an issue because they use the word spiritual quite a bit, but when we talk about it, it’s easy to break down the practical of what they’re talking about when they use that word in that particular sentence and stuff.

34:50 John S: That, Angela is an example of the debates that happen online that never happen in meetings. The atheist who likes to talk about spirituality. [chuckle] It’s really not a big deal when it happens in our meeting. It really isn’t. But God, if do it on Facebook, oh, good God.

35:02 Angela B: Right, right, yeah, yeah. Yeah. But no, I think that this is really, a really good start to things. So that’s generally how I start working with somebody. But I’ve also found The Little Book: A Collection of Alternative 12 Steps, Roger C’s book, extremely helpful. Not just that he has all of these versions of the steps, but the appendices are super helpful for me with the different interpretations from you know… I’m doing air quotes here “experts”, [chuckle] but, because, yeah, that often gives the person that I’m working with, multiple ways to look at it, and so there’s… Language really is important, and there are times that somebody can say things in a certain way and I don’t hear it, and then another person can rephrase it in a secular way or maybe with the Buddhist leaning or something like that, and I’ll understand it differently, even if it’s something that I’ve heard for the last 12 years at every single meeting. It’s like, “Oh! I suddenly get it because of the way that someone rephrases it.”

36:16 Angela B: So yeah, so I really like looking in the back of this book to get the interpretations from these people because that often will give me the words that are more helpful to somebody because I know what I mean, but they may not know what I mean, and having more language to be able to do that is really helpful. So yeah, as we go through that, I would like to bring some of that into play and understanding how some other people do the steps and how they can think of the steps, and does that change, at least for me that day, that we’re talking about it, how I might think of the steps.

37:00 Angela B: The other book that I think is helpful that by a guy that we both know, Joe C’s Beyond Belief: Agnostic Musings for 12 Step Life. I often use the index in there to find different musings that have to do with the steps because he has, all of them, listed in there. And so, yeah, so for each step, there’s multiple dates that you can go through and take a look at some different ideas of how that can relate to things, and that’s been helpful to me and to some of my sponsees as well to look at the steps and use that index. And so, yeah, so I find that helpful. And then again, like you said, if anybody emails or sends us some information and wants to share their perspective, we can look at that too and add that to the conversation, because yeah, I think more language, more ideas, is better. Yeah.

38:00 John S: It’s liberating.

38:01 Angela B: I don’t think that there’s anything that people are going to be like, “Well, if it’s this or that… The book says this, so this is what it is.” We can share that, that somebody wrote it, and so the book says this and that’s what it is. And then, maybe somebody listening will be like, “Oh, okay. That makes sense to me.” [chuckle] “There you go.” But yeah, for me, I think that more language, more dialogue, more talking is better. And that’s because I go with the “Take what you want and leave the rest.” Somebody can say that, and I can be like, “Oh”.

38:34 John S: It was a game changer for me. Believe it or not, I’d been in AA for what, 25 years before I ever considered that you could actually re-write the steps in your own words.

38:46 Angela B: Yeah.

38:46 John S: Can you believe that?

38:48 Angela B: That’s… [laughter] interesting to you. Yeah.

38:50 John S: I never even thought of it. I never thought of it. It never occurred to me that…

[overlapping conversation]

38:54 Angela B: Wow. So different from my experience because my first sponsor… Yeah. [chuckle] I read some stuff from the steps and I’m like, “This… Yeah. This is… I don’t know how this is going to work,” and she’s like, “Why don’t you re-write them?” I’m like, “Okay, I will.” [chuckle], which is like, why don’t you just rewrite the book? I’m like, “Maybe I will.”

39:10 John S: And I think everybody should.

39:13 Angela B: So yeah.

39:14 John S: I think everybody should. When I finally did that… And I don’t know where I learned that you could, it might have very well been from Roger’s website and looking through the little book. It might have been through some other of the agnostic sites that they have out there, but when I finally did that, it was totally liberating to see my experience written in my own language. And I’ve actually changed it up a few times over the years now, and anyway, I do encourage people to actually have an opportunity to do that. I’m going to ask my group, where we’re doing our step study, to do that when we’re done with, through the steps. It’s like, “Hey write ’em for yourself.”

39:50 Angela B: Well, and I think being open to… So, one of the things that I find is that the phrasing could make more sense to me on a different day. So, if one day the first step of, “We admitted we were powerless over alcohol, that our lives had become unmanageable.” Sometimes that makes sense to me. And on other days, I really need something that’s more of an atheist bent, or maybe I need one that says, “We admitted that we suffer from a seemingly hopeless state of mind and body.” There are definitely days like that. And so being open to that there, a different one might make more sense to me on a different day is nice to me, rather than have that this is my template that says who I am. Yeah, maybe it’s just that I change my mind a lot [chuckle] But I think it is helpful to write it out in a way, particularly early on or that makes sense to you. because I do that with step three. A lot of people in our area do the, saying the prayer, and so I, as part of the way we do it, is change that to an affirmation that makes sense to them.

41:18 Angela B: And that is something that is helpful, and that, particularly when they’re going through the fourth step, is nice to have something to look back when they’re struggling and say, “Oh, this is where I am, this is how I envision things.” So yes, I think it can be good to write it out in a way that makes sense to you. I guess my suggestion is to be open that that’s probably going to change, that we evolve, and to be open to that, because most of my struggles with some of my sponsees that do have a particular faith is that they often put that in a box, that this is exactly what I believe, and when life and reality throw things at you that are outside of what that box is, that’s when they struggle, and so they’re trying to make whatever it is fit inside their higher power box, as we often call it, and so if they let that out of a box and are open to different ideas, that usually things tend to go better.

42:20 John S: Yeah. So, you think, for scheduling, would you like to do this like maybe like on an every-other-week schedule?

42:27 Angela B: Sure, that’d work.

42:28 John S: That’d give us an opportunity to kind of think about it and so forth before we do the next episode and will get us through them in a reasonable time. I think it’ll be really interesting. I’m really looking forward to this, and I’m really looking forward to getting to know you better through this, through learning about your experience.

42:45 Angela B: Yeah, me too.

42:46 John S: So, yeah.

42:47 Angela B: Yeah.

42:48 John S: It’s a good thing.

42:48 Angela B: Very excited about it.

[music]

43:09 John S: Well, that concludes another episode of AA Beyond Belief. Thank you for listening. If you would like to support our site and podcast, there are a couple of ways you can help out. You can post a review on iTunes, hopefully a favorable one. You can help us out financially with either a recurring or one-time contribution. You can do this by setting up a small recurring contribution at our Patreon page, which you can find at patreon.com/aabeyondbelief, or through PayPal at paypal.me/aabeyondbelief. And you can always just visit our site, aabeyondbelief.org and click on the Donate button. Thanks again for listening, and we’ll be back again real soon for another episode of AA Beyond Belief.


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