This episode features Wally K. from the Atheists, Agnostics, and All Others group in Boise, Idaho. Wally has been sober for 47 years, and this is his story.
00:37 Wally K: Thanks for having me, John, I appreciate this opportunity. We don’t have a lot of speaker meetings here in the greater Boise area, so I look forward to an opportunity to do this. It’s always positive for me.
00:51 John S: Yeah, I feel the same. I thank you for taking your time to come on here and share your story with us. It’s important, there’s a lot of people out there who don’t have secular AA meetings, and this kind of helps them out quite a bit.
01:05 Wally K: Well, I certainly have a lot to say about the secular aspects of my sobriety. I don’t have a very exciting story. I say I’m a garden variety drunk and I was. I was born in 1940, so I’ve been around a while, and I took my first serious drink when I was in college as a freshman, in fall of 1957. I don’t… In my family, there’s a lot of male alcoholics there. Don’t seem to be any female alcoholics. And I knew for a long, long time that something wasn’t right, long before I picked up that drink. I always felt like I didn’t fit in. I was always looking for attention. Positive attention was good, pat on the back, etcetera. But if I couldn’t get that kind, I’d go for the negative attention.
02:12 Wally K: And a very interesting thing. I was a deportment problem in high school. Well, I was a deportment problem all the way through school, but I was such a problem in high school that I got black-balled from the National Honor Society. I think I’m the only one. A teacher that I singled out for a lot of hazing and disruptions in her class as an eighth grader, ninth grader, she bided her time and when it was 11th grade and we had the giant tapping of the new National Honors Society members, she just made sure my name was stricken from the list. So, this was an early sign that I was a set up.
03:08 Wally K: Looking back on it from what I’ve learned in AA another sign was that I did a geographic cure before I ever picked up my first drink. To change locations means, of course, we’re changing people, places and things, it’s just that we drag ourselves along. And so rather than stay in Louisville, Kentucky, where I grew up, I went off to college over in Alabama, about 500 miles away thinking that things were going to be better because I could start over. It never occurred to me that the only thing that I needed to start over was me. Again, I was going to start over people, places and things. And that didn’t work because I got involved with fraternity rush. And I remember being invited into this one fraternity, and they put a pretty little Southern girl under one arm, they stuck a beer in one hand and a cigarette between my fingers and away I went. And the beer was fantastic. It seemed to short-circuit all that I felt that made me not good enough, not acceptable with other people. So, I didn’t have to be a great scholar, I didn’t have to be an athlete. I didn’t have to be anything as long as I could pop a can of beer.
04:50 Wally K: And so, there I was at age 18 half-way through my freshman year of college. And I had become a regular drinker, I believe I was an alcoholic before I was 19 years old. And I began to rely on alcohol. And in college, there were a lot of fascinating people. There were smart people, there were athletic people, there were wise people, and I didn’t feel like there was any place where I could stand out. But when I picked up the drink, I stood out. And if you were on my side of the fence, of course, I was really standing out. I was socially acceptable. I was Mr. Hotshot. If you were on the other side of the fence, you saw the garden variety drunk. You saw Wally making a fool of himself and being an embarrassment to his peers in the fraternity, his friends, the women who would date me, and of course, in the summer when I went home, I was an embarrassment to my family because of what I did with my drinking. Nothing spectacular, just embarrassing, disappointing. And so that’s the way alcohol was for me as a young person. I tried to use it like a Superman suit, but it just wasn’t there for me.
06:41 Wally K: This is a true story, [chuckle] little vignette of Wally, the ladies’ man. When I was in a fraternity, I dated several girls. And one night a week, we would have a big open house, and all the fraternity boys would bring their dates in, and we’d have dinner. And a fraternity brother came up to me after one of these meals and he said, “I noticed you had a date the other night with,” I forget the girl’s name. I said, “Yeah, we did. She was a lot of fun.” He said, “Are you all an item?” I said, “No.” He said, “Would you mind if I dated her?” I said, “Certainly.” That’s the way it was in the fraternity. And it wasn’t four months until they were engaged, and I think that was because I set the bar so low. After going out with Wally, it was a lot easier to pick somebody as potential marriage material but… And it should have been a sign, it should have been an omen to me, but it wasn’t. That happened two more times in the same academic year. I date a girl, bring her to the fraternity house, fraternity brother says, “May I have a… May I ask your date out?” I say yes, three months go by, they’re engaged. [chuckle] It made no impact on me at all.
08:15 Wally K: I had a horrible car accident while I was in college, and it should have been a road sign that I wasn’t doing well with drinking. I totaled out my car, driving into the side of a giant pine tree at about 60 miles an hour. The pine tree was located on a little rise in the middle of the Auburn Cemetery, and it was Easter morning about 3:00 AM, and I was in a blackout. So, there were all these road signs for me that I didn’t see. By the time I graduated from college, I was in the midst of a horrible, horrible marriage. A marriage made in hell because neither one of us, I don’t think, was responsible, mature, certainly not a very deep thinker.
09:20 Wally K: I lived in a fantasy world. My grandparents introduced me to movies, and when I was a little kid growing up, I went to 40s movies every Friday with my grandparents. It was the John Wayne westerns, Hopalong Cassidy, or it was Richard Widmark and all of these people that projected an image of a responsible adult just grabbing life by the horns. And I thought when I was in college, maybe that’s what I needed to do. I needed to get married. When Richard Widmark and Jane Wyman got married, my God! They had this beautiful little ivy-covered cottage and a white picket fence. And he was kicking it at work or as a detective or whatever he was doing or wearing his Navy uniform. And I thought all of that will come to me if I just get married. And so, that’s what I did, and again, Wally made a bad choice. I really didn’t put much thought into it, and the marriage ended rather disastrously 10 years later after four kids.
10:50 Wally K: And I took another geographic cure before we were divorced. I went from Auburn, Alabama where we were living. I took my family to Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania, and I got into the business of designing fuel for nuclear submarines. That was a fun job, it really was. I was qualified for it. I had a master’s degree in Chemical Engineering. The Master’s degree was probably another one of my geographic cures. If I get enough education, I’ll be Mr. Hotshot. But I knew I was at the end of my string after my master’s degree. But at Pittsburg, I really enjoyed the work. It was technical, and I met a lot of really talented people. I met people that were brilliant, and I had wonderful peers, and if I wanted them, mentors. But while I was doing this fun work, I was also drinking a lot. Well, another time for it was time for another geographic cure. I was, at the time, about 28 or 29, and I convinced Westinghouse that I needed to be on this special team to refuel a nuclear-powered aircraft carrier down in Norfolk, Virginia; Newport News, that area. And they took me up on a deal and sent me down there. Nobody knew about my drinking. I’m sure the public would have not slept too well at night if they knew Wally the drunk was down there playing games on a nuclear-powered aircraft carrier. And I had a lot of authority as a field engineer. I got through that assignment okay, and they, Westinghouse then sent me to…
13:02 Wally K: The town of Groton, Connecticut, where they made submarines, and I became a field engineer for nuclear-powered submarines. And this definitely was not very smart of Admiral Rickover and the nuclear Navy, but I hid my drinking pretty well. But as I had mentioned earlier, as a garden variety drunk, I had attached myself to some very nefarious characters. Some were sailors on the submarines I worked on. Some were shipyard workers that I worked with. Some were just sleazy people I met in the bars. And I had a bad habit of drinking usually from Friday night all the way through to Monday morning, getting just enough sleep to function.
14:00 Wally K: Well, I was attracting a lot of attention, and one night, oh, it was about 2:00 AM, I was working on a submarine. I guess it was fall, it was a little chilly. The submarine was tied up next to the pier there in Groton. And my boss showed up on the pier at 2:00 AM and asked me to come up out of the submarine and have a little talk with him. And he said that he had been getting reports of the characters I was hanging with. Now, this was pretty serious because my job required a security clearance. Heck, I was working on nuclear reactors on the submarines, and they were very important to national security. So, he talked about the people I hung with, he talked about my drinking, he talked about the fact that at work, I wasn’t holding up my end of the seesaw, that I was ignorant of my job and I was probably a hazard. And I told my boss, John, I said, “If you don’t like the way I do things, John, we have offices in several shipyards. Just transfer me.” And John looked at me, I still remember, this was my aha moment. John said to me, “Wally, I don’t pass the trash.”
15:40 Wally K: Now, as you noticed, I don’t have any trouble talking. It’s always coming out of the pie hole, but when my boss said that, for the first time I can ever remember, I was speechless. I know my mouth was opened; it wasn’t even moving. Now, I didn’t know what my problem was, but I knew instantaneously when he said that, something was really bad, wrong because I had always managed to sidestep any moment like that in my life. But John’s remark really set me back on my heels, and I knew that there was something bad, wrong that could cost me my job, and I didn’t equate it with my drinking. Fortuitously, I had a friend in the trailer park where I lived; I was living by myself at the time. My wife did not want to have anything to do with me, so she had stayed in Virginia when I got transferred up to the submarine yard. So, I was living by myself, and I had a friend, Lloyd, who was a retired navy chief from submarines. And one night, Lloyd asked me if I’d like to go to a buffet with him. And so, I said, “Sure, let’s go.” And we went to a place called Starlite Farm up north of Groton. It was a very, very high-end, drying out place and rehab. Today, its name is Stonington something or other. It’s changed, but it’s still there.
17:38 Wally K: And so, we had a wonderful, wonderful buffet, and afterwards, we went to an AA meeting. This was my first AA meeting, and there were probably 75 people there in this auditorium; was a speaker meeting, of course, that size. And I sat there and listened to the speaker. And while he was speaking, he was on a raised platform. The 12 steps and 12 traditions were on some great, big panels that hung down behind the speaker, and I was reading, especially the steps. And I listened to him, and it made so much sense to me. And I thought, “If only I were an alcoholic, but I’m not.” [chuckle] I was ninja-level denial at that point. And so, it seemed to me that until I found where I needed to be, but I saw AA work for drunks, so I needed something for my particular problem, and I said, “I’m powerless over humanity.” I replaced the word “alcohol”, “alcoholic” in the steps; I think it appears three times. I said, “I’m powerless over humanity.” God only knows what that means, but it was enough foolishness to get me home that night.
19:18 Wally K: And I continued to drink, but I continued to go back to that AA meeting because I knew that if AA could help a drunk, there must be something for people who are powerless over humanity. [chuckle] And lo and behold, there were a couple of really good discussion meetings, one of which was closed, but they didn’t have any trouble inviting me. I thought it was my dynamic personality, but I think they saw somebody that, you know the one-legged man with rubber crutches, so [chuckle] they had to do what they could do, and they did a little outreach. I kept going to the meetings and I never doubted that AA could help people get sober. I picked that up right away because being an engineer, when I go to the meetings and see all these sober people, and they weren’t just people, they were data points, and there were a lot of data points in Southeastern Connecticut that said AA works.
20:37 Wally K: One guy, I was listening to one night and it was at the Starlite Farm, Stonington, whatever today, this man was talking, and as he told his story, it paralleled mine. Now he was about 10 years older than me, and his story started 10 years before mine did, but other than the 10-year gap, the stories were very similar about our drinking patterns, our feelings. And when he got to the point in his life where he was, that corresponded to where I was, sitting there in the audience, his story continued on. And he experienced loss of job, he experienced going to jail, he experienced rehabs and family down the tubes, and a lot of other horrible things. And it occurred to me, what he’s sharing that night was previews of coming attractions for me if I kept on with my behavior. And so, I said, “I wonder if I could be an alcoholic.” Well, back then, this was 1971 maybe. Back then, there was an old saw, “If you don’t think you’re an alcoholic, try drinking.” So, I went to a holiday meal and I had a glass of wine, and about 20 minutes later, it was like I was itching on the inside. I had of course dropped off into withdrawal. I had twisted the tiger’s tail, and now the tiger, he wanted me to scratch him behind the ears again, and I saw my pattern. When I was playing with the tiger, I had to scratch his ears every 20 minutes until I was horizontal. [chuckle]
22:49 Wally K: And so that was what convinced me that lo and behold, I wasn’t powerless over humanity, I was just a drunk. I was an alcoholic. Fortunately for me, I was a perfect fit for AA. Back then, there weren’t many rehabs except for the rich, insurance programs didn’t pay for rehab hospitalization as we know it today. A lot of what we did in AA was the picture, the “Man on the Bed” picture, that was kind of what it was like, lots of 12-Step Calls. And I sit right in to… I’m going to call it regular AA, and I started working the steps. I read the Big Book. I read the Twelve and Twelve. And it all fit for me. I had to do a couple of things because I didn’t have the higher power God thing down very well and so, I translated a couple of words and I just decided that step 11… When I got to step 11, I just said, “I’m going to have to say that God, as I understand him, is God as I don’t understand him.” But that’s just understanding down near the zero level, and that worked for me. And I tried doing what it told me to do in the Big Book and the Twelve and Twelve.
24:36 Wally K: So, I would try praying and I would try meditating. When I would pray, I didn’t even get a dial tone, so I didn’t think it was anybody on the other end. It’s a funny thing, by the way, Mother Teresa had the same experience. She just decided Jesus was a good listener and went on with her life, but I wasn’t getting the dial tone. And so, I said, “I’ve got to learn a little bit more about this God thing.” Now, at that time, I was carrying some stuff that I didn’t know I was carrying. I grew up in, as I mentioned earlier, Louisville Kentucky, and I got into the big mainstream fundamentalist religion that dominates Kentucky. And of course, I had allowed my soul to be saved and I carried an awful lot of guilt and shame. And as I learned later, guilt means I made a mistake; shame means I am a mistake.
25:53 Wally K: And I felt that I am a mistake. I felt it very deeply. And so, I started working what I thought was step 11 and now know that I popped over the side rails of step 11 a little bit. I wiped my slate clean and began to explore God as I understand him, and I went on that quest for about 30 years. Now, I never picked up a drink. I was never even uncomfortable. I didn’t feel like AA had a timer going, and when it got to zero, I’d blow up or turn into a pumpkin, so I just kept at it. And the longer I kept at it, the more I became, I went down the scale from very confused possible fundamentalist Christian, I worked my way up that scale to agnostic. And then, later on, after about 30 years, I read a book called “The God Delusion” by Richard Dawkins. That was kind of my spiritual Big Book, and I realized that I was an atheist, maybe even a more committed atheist than Richard Dawkins, because he was only 9 out of 10 points on his little exercise that he went through, but I felt like I was higher than 9. But I was very, very comfortable when I saw that I was an atheist, and it was a huge, huge load off my back.
27:46 Wally K: And this was… Well, let’s see, I’ve been sober 47 years, so this was maybe 15 years ago. And I had this realization. Well, it wasn’t long after that, it was about a dozen years ago, my wife and I went to a birthday party for a couple of AA friends, and, well, you know Angela, well, Angela was a pretty much a new comer, and there was a fellow, Greg, and a lady, Chia, and we got to bemoaning the fact that regular AA meetings were irritating us because we couldn’t be what we were. What we were was two atheists, I think a deist and a Buddhist, and we said, “Well, we can fix that. We could start our own secular meeting.” Now, when I first came in AA and back in the days where I was powerless over humanity, the meetings in Connecticut, as I remember, were pretty secular. Now, people did talk a little bit about God, but I think because the population in New England is so diverse, we are much more tolerant of the fact that we’re surrounded by various varieties of Christians and Jews and everything. And even back in the ’70s, we were diverse ethnically and religiously, so we were pretty secular in the meetings.
29:35 Wally K: Here in the greater Boise area, I found that there were some meetings that weren’t nearly as secular as I’d like them to be. So, the four of us decided after the birthday party that we would get together and explore setting up our own secular meeting. And we did; it took us, I’m going to guess, four months, anyway. We would meet and plan everything out. While we were planning, for instance, the format of the meeting and the boilerplate for the meeting, the name of the meeting, others of us were working in the background to find a good place to meet. And we were… One of the things we did, I knew the man that ran the store at our… What’s the word I’m looking for here? Central Office, yeah, so I went down and started sowing seeds with Bob, telling him what we were doing and all, and, how do you think it’ll go over? Etcetera, etcetera. And so, we kind of fertilized the garden before we put the seeds in, with local AA.
30:54 Wally K: And then at the right time, we had a place to meet. We knew we were going to have a speaker meeting or a discussion meeting with a short speaker to introduce a serious topic, and that we were secular, and that we weren’t going to bind ourselves only to conference-approved literature from AA. And we had our first meeting, the first Friday of the New Year, 11-and-a-half years ago, our meeting… I just start compromising, because I was sort of set in my ways. But one of the things I battled and lost, thank goodness, saner minds prevailed, what do we call our meeting? And I decided our meeting should have some milk toasty title. Thank goodness I lost, because we named the group “Atheists, Agnostics and All Others”. And we were serious about that, and we really meant the “all others” part. And a couple of the things we did right, among the four of us, a couple of us pledged that we would cover all expenses of the group, just in case we didn’t collect any money into basket. And we pledged that we would be there at those meetings, that we wouldn’t run off if we got tired of looking at one another for a while. And we started, and it wasn’t long before we got our first newcomer.
32:36 Wally K: I think it was in April that our friend showed up on a bicycle. He wasn’t driving, [chuckle] for obvious reasons, and he worked a couple of miles away from where the meeting was. And he was an atheist, and he saw, I think pretty quickly, he fit in with our group. And we needed someone to open a hall, so we gave him the key. Nobody bothered to tell him, “You’re supposed to be sober for a while.” And he became the fifth founder, and away we went. And today, Jeff’s still sober. He’s got, I think Jeff just picked up 11 years this past April. And the group is heading towards its 12th birthday, and we’re just cranking right along. Our group features a lot of young people, and I need that, I need that. The millennials have taught me so very, very much. And I think I was ossifying a little bit as far as being a very traditional AA person, except I was an atheist. And I’ve learned that, “Hey, over the last 47 years, a lot of stuff has happened.” And we have, out there, many recovery programs; some based on AA, some not. We have access to professionals: Psychologists, psychiatrists. We have programs in the Veterans Administration, et cetera, et cetera, et cetera.
34:22 Wally K: And these young people in our group, they come in, and they seem to display a real desire to be accountable for their sobriety, and of course, they take what we have to offer. But at the same time, they’re looking at the Veterans Administration program here in Boise; it’s very, very good. They look at… We’ve got several people with a nodding acquaintance with secular Buddhism, so they look at Refuge Recovery. We’ve got people that have looked at SMART Recovery. We have people that lean very heavily on a psychiatrist, psychologist. So, there’s always something new popping up every Tuesday night at our little home group. And it’s really good for me because I don’t feel like I’m 79 years old again; I feel younger, I feel younger. And I see all these wonderful things happening. So, this year, I decided this was a year I was going to look at Buddhism. My daughter-in-law is a Thai Buddhist, and I’m so impressed with her parenting skills with… She’s a single mom with twins that are two-and-a-half years old, and she is such a tremendous, tremendous parent. I thought maybe there’s something in this Buddhism, so I’ve listened to a couple of dozen Buddhist podcasts, Secular Buddhist podcasts, read a couple of books. And just last night, I want to meet my first real, live Buddhist in downtown Boise. We have a Zen Center, and they had an open house, and they had a teaching session, a Dharma lecture, as they call it. And they had brought in a monk from, I think California.
36:32 Wally K: So here I am at 79 years old, 47 years sober, and I’m changing again. And I’m changing because I want to change. And I’ve always said, not always, but almost the entire time I’ve been in AA, one thing I picked up on is we’re amateurs. So, my sobriety comes from what other people offer that I take. I take experience, strength and hope; there’s the three categories. So AA is like that wonderful cafeteria that I went to at Starlite Farms where I could slide my tray down and have my pick of what I wanted. And I tell people that are exploring AA, “You’re going to have to do something. You’ve got a tray. You’re at the best cafeteria for recovery going. There’s no way I can give you a suppository that’s going to get you sober. You have to sample and pick what you think you need. And maybe you’re going to not always pick exactly what you need, but you can keep coming back; there’s no limit on seconds.” And so, here I am with new concepts at 79 years old, and I’m having a ball in my sobriety, especially since I’ve tried to… Decided to make this next move and incorporate a little Buddhism into my sobriety.
38:17 John S: That’s great. I think it’s really good that the people in your group will avail themselves of other programs, too. I wish that I could see more of that in my group. I think that’s the way it should be. Why should we be in different camps where you just go to this program and not the others?
38:35 Wally K: Well, I noticed a couple of innovations that have crept in over the years with the young people, the mavericks. There are people, a few people in my group, we number between 25 and 35, by the way, at our Tuesday evening meetings. And we have a couple of people that don’t count birthdays. We have a couple of people that don’t say, “My name is blah-blah, and I’m an alcoholic.” We have a couple of people that are really struggling to find sobriety, but our group is so tolerant and so non-judgmental, and we seem to understand one another, and we have a real empathy for whatever the problem is. So, we have people that if they have a problem with staying sober, they come back because nobody’s going to look down their nose, nobody’s going to roll their eyes or say “hmm” under their breath because we all gain from other’s experiences. And people are so willing to share those problems with us, it enriches the whole group. And that’s one more thing that I think the young people had brought to our group, this acceptance, this tolerance.
40:07 John S: Yeah, and I’ve noticed that the generation that you’re talking about. Our meeting, we originally started it as a refuge for us, agnostics and atheists. But I’m noticing that this new generation of people, they don’t really identify either way. It’s more like it’s not even an issue for them, they could care less. And I find that interesting, it’s like our group is becoming less of a special purpose group for atheists and just more of just an AA group that happens to be secular.
40:35 Wally K: That’s the way our group has been from the get-go. In fact, one of our earliest attendees was young Christian lady. And she fit right in just because none of us… Well, since we already started with a deist and a Buddhist.
40:55 John S: There you go [chuckle]
40:56 Wally K: We were kind of diverse even with four people.
40:58 John S: Yeah. And it was smart, you put the “all others” in your name too.
41:02 Wally K: Yes, that was very wise of those newcomers. I forget who beat me up on that one-in-one, but I think it was Angela, but I’m not sure, but that was very wise, the name they picked. And I was smart to just tuck my head and go with it. I figured it just wasn’t worth going to the mat over the name of the group. And we’ve always known we can change things, whether it’s our boilerplate. We’ve even voluntarily changed our rent. The church has never asked us as the group has grown to increase the rent because we always get there first and say, “We’re jacking the rent up by another $5 a month.” And well, that’s kind of part of the seventh tradition, right? The pay our own way, and when it’s not four people using the sink and the bathroom, it’s 25 to 35, they should get a little more, right?
42:11 John S: I’m really impressed by your group. As I talk to Angela and get to know her better and I learn more about your group. And I didn’t… For whatever reason I did not know that y’all have been meeting for 11 years, going on 12 years. That’s pretty amazing. [chuckle] There weren’t a lot of agnostic groups around at that time. I didn’t even know they existed back then.
42:30 Wally K: I don’t know that we did, but we had been to groups that were pretty close to… I’m going to have to play the age card, what word am I hunting for here?
42:40 John S: Pretty close to secular.
42:42 Wally K: Not… Secular, secular. I know when we had our first international secular conference down in San Diego a few years back, I was doing some work for one of the people on the board of directors kind of as a volunteer, and it caused me to look around the Pacific Northwest for secular groups as possible places to send meeting announcements. And we were sitting here in Southwest Idaho all by ourselves. You had to go all the way to… I think Seattle at that time had a secular group or two. I don’t know that Portland did when you go west of Boise, and when you go east, I don’t know, you might have had to go all the way the Mississippi River…
43:35 John S: Probably so. [chuckle]
43:35 Wally K: To find a secular group. South of here, I think you had to go all the way down into Colorado, the Denver area to find one. So, we were kind of… We were unique for a while. Now we have two right here in the Boise area that are secular.
43:54 John S: Now did you ever have any problems with the central office of the local AA as you were getting started?
44:00 Wally K: Nothing that was more than a flea bite. We had somebody that was… We prepared a pamphlet about our group, and it was a little one-page trifold. And we put it in literature racks at doctors’ offices, etcetera. And one of our friends down at the central office, he kept our pamphlets there on the main pamphlet rack, separated of course, from the holy rack of AA.
44:32 John S: The conference-approved AA stuff, yeah.
44:36 Wally K: Conference-approved. But we had a couple of people that were throwing that away when they got the chance, but that stopped and now when we fill up the literature rack with our pamphlet, they’re there, and they disappear one at a time the way they’re supposed to. And in fact, [chuckle] our pamphlet, the first one that came out was about six years ago, seven years ago, and a friend of mine, in fact the fellow that showed up on the bicycle in April right after we started the meeting over 11 years ago, he and I wrote the first pamphlet. Well, he’s a software engineer, and I’m a chemical engineer, so we compressed the entire history of the western world, onto one sheet of paper front and back in font so tiny you need a microscope to read it. Couple of the ladies in our group are quite artistically inclined. They re-worked the pamphlet, and it’s basically bullet-points now. I think I sent you a copy.
45:51 John S: Yeah, I need to see if I’ve got it, if not, would you send it again? It’d be nice to have it, yeah.
45:56 Wally K: Sure. But they did this beautiful job, and it’s probably got no more than 5% of the text that the original one had. But they knew how to pick the important stuff and put it in there. And since they were newcomers, when they came to our group, they knew what a newcomer, a secular newcomer would want to see. And so, it’s just a knock-out piece of literature for the newcomer, for the professional, like a judge, a policeman, a doctor and in fact the local church, we meet in a Universal, it’s a Unitarian Church. They keep it in their literature, right in the foyer where you enter the building.
46:48 John S: You guys are really organized. I’m impressed by that.
46:51 Wally K: Well, we want people to have a reasonably honest view of who we are, and what we are. Now, if somebody comes to our meeting and they don’t like it, we have enough people that go to other meetings that if they come in and say, “We don’t like your meeting. You’re heathens, you do everything, but animal sacrifices.” What we’ll do is, we’ll introduce him to a couple of members in our group who can sit down with him and go through this rather large schedule of local meetings, and help them pick out the ones that they might want. We have couple of three meetings in the area that are sort of new agey. We’ve got some that are very religious, and we have some that are more traditional. And so, what we do, we help people that don’t like our meeting find another meeting or especially with newcomers, we help ’em find other meetings they’ll be comfortable with. Because of course, as newcomers we need more than one a week, usually. And so, we can help a newcomer find a half a dozen, a dozen meetings that they’re comfortable with in the greater Boise area.
48:11 John S: Now, Angela told me that you like to write, and that you have an email group and you will write stuff up and send to them. And I know that one thing that you wrote, we actually posted on AA Beyond Belief, it was your critique of the, oh, what that book was, “One Big Tent”.
48:27 Wally K: Yes.
48:27 John S: You didn’t like it.
48:28 Wally K: Yes, I remember that. I really strapped them on for that.
48:34 Wally K: I was so disappointed because I was, I don’t know why, I had a false expectation.
48:42 John S: Yeah.
48:42 Wally K: As I become a better secular Buddhist, I’ll learn to accept. But I did not accept that pamphlet when it came out, at all.
48:49 John S: Right.
48:49 Wally K: Because it was all AA. And I knew that AA wasn’t just AA anymore.
48:56 John S: Right, right.
48:57 Wally K: In fact, some of the legal programs now, like drug court, tremendous place for somebody to base their recovery and get some guidance and mentoring and encouragement, and that they don’t have to get more from AA than we can give.
49:17 John S: You just didn’t think that that book reflected the reality of our experience as secular people in AA.
49:24 Wally K: Well, today now, I look at what I said, and I wonder it could have been that that’s the way the central office wanted it. They didn’t want to talk about other organizations that will help you get sober. And there may be a good reason for that, I don’t know. But I was kind of disappointed because I see such a diversity of recovery programs and recovery tools being used and successfully used.
49:57 John S: And there’s no reason that people shouldn’t be able to take advantage of a variety of different tools.
50:01 Wally K: That’s a fact. That’s fact. AA is a tool kit, and there’s no reason we can’t have some metric tools in there.
50:08 John S: I’m starting to see AA as kind of like a loose network of people that get together and help each other out, and if part of that helping each other out is saying, “Hey, you know, there’s a SMART Recovery Group I went to last week. You might want to check it out.” What’s wrong with that? [laughter] It makes sense.
50:23 Wally K: Absolutely nothing. I know as a sponsor, I was having trouble helping this one fellow, and I encouraged him to put his own program together, and I had to be gone for a month, and so I fired myself so that he could get some local support 24/7. And he put together his own program. I think SMART Recovery might be part of it. I know the VA program was part of it. I know he had a professional counselor, he had a couple of different types of AA meetings, not just ours, and he worked at it, and worked at it, and suddenly he’s getting his first bronze medallion, he no longer gets the 30, 60, 90-day medallions, he’s getting the ones with the Roman numerals on it. By the way, I wanted to thank you for inviting me today. My wife was celebrating her 50th, and she was having, she threw a great big party in downtown Boise today for all of the people that she’s known over the years and you have saved me from swimming in a giant Sea of estrogen. And…
51:39 John S: Well, congratulations to her. That’s great.
51:41 Wally K: Susan has been a real, real help for me. I don’t know where my sobriety would have gone without her. She was two-and-a-half years sober when we met, and she became a licensed professional drug and alcohol counselor after our son was in high school, and I got a lot of good positive feedback, not just the AA feedback, but the professional alcoholism and drug counselor feedback. She’s been very, very important to my sobriety.
52:17 John S: That’s great. I thank you too. This has been a great talk, and I certainly identify with a lot of your story. I was in AA for a long time, 25 years, read Richard Dawkins, realized I was an atheist, that was a game changer for me. It’s kind of changed things. I started looking at the program differently. It’s cool, it’s nice. So, thank you, thank you very much for sharing your story with us. I appreciate it.
52:42 Wally K: You’re welcome John. And maybe someday I can give you a report on conversion to secular Buddhism.
52:47 John S: Okay. [chuckle] We’d like that actually. You could write us a story about that.
53:00 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 with another episode of AA Beyond Belief.
How You Can Support the Site and Podcast
Consider Supporting AA Beyond Belief with a small monthly contribution. This helps pay for podcast transcripts, hosting fees and other costs associated with creating content on the site and podcast. Even a dollar or two a month helps out a great deal.