Episode 128: Twelve Secular Steps

This episode features a talk by Bill W., author of “Twelve Secular Steps: An Addiction Recovery Guide.” Bill’s book is an excellent resource for anyone who is interested in a secular interpretation of the Twelve Steps, but I think it is particularly useful for someone who is just beginning their recovery journey. This is a rebroadcast of the KC Secular AA Speaker Meeting podcast. That meeting and podcast is now defunct, so I thought it would be nice if we could post those episodes at AA Beyond Belief interspersed with our new episodes.

Transcript

0:00 John S: This is a recording of the KC secular AA speaker meeting held every Saturday night at HJ’s youth and community center located at 6425 Wornall Road, Kansas City, Missouri.

[music]

00:37 Simon: I’m an alcoholic.

[background conversation]

00:38 Simon: I’ve asked Leigh to read the preamble.

00:40 Leigh: Hi, my name is Leigh and I’m an alcoholic.

00:45 Audience: Hey there, Leigh.

00:45 Leigh: AA is a fellowship of people who share their experience trying to help with each other that they may solve their common problem and help others truly cope. We have no user fees for membership, we are self-supporting through our own contributions. AA is not allied with any sect, denomination, politics, organization, or institution. Does not wish to engage in any controversy, neither endorses nor opposes any causes. Our primary purpose is to stay sober and help others to achieve sobriety.

01:15 Simon: Our secular group attempts to maintain a tradition of free expression in the conducted meeting will all may feel free to express any doubts or disbeliefs they may have, and to share their own personal form a spiritual experience, the search for it, or their rejection of it. In keeping with AA tradition, we do not endorse or oppose any form of religion or atheism. Our only wish is to help those who want recovery without having to accept anyone’s beliefs or having to deny their own. During the meetings, we will pass around a… I didn’t get a thing. Hey Richard, will you pass around your hat about halfway through the meeting, please? Thank you. Is there anybody… Everybody’s new to this meeting, I realize.

[laughter]

01:55 Simon: But is there anybody who doesn’t recognize everybody else, who would like to introduce themselves? And it’s not necessary as a… And we also recognize extended periods of sobriety. Is there anybody celebrating any number of days or months, or years.

02:13 Leigh: Me, on the 19th I will have 11 years.

[applause]

02:20 Simon: Now, I don’t have an 11-year coin, for you.

02:23 Leigh: I… Believe me, I will collect enough of them over the years to come. Thank you.

02:27 Simon: Awesome. Okay, we’re going to start with a 20 to 30-minute, whatever, flexible speaker. Tell us something about their sobriety and how their life’s been affected by recovery. And afterwards, we’re going to… We’re going to go popcorn-style. Just kind of responses I guess. If you need to get something off your chest, do that. If you want to respond to what the speaker has said, you can do that, but… Let’s see… No one should be obligated to share, if they don’t feel comfortable, but we do ask that you limit your time to allow others to respond and refrain from sharing more than once. After the meeting, we usually hang around and chat if you want to extend the conversation or have any further questions. Some of us will introduce ourselves as alcoholic. But you can introduce yourselves however you like, whatever makes you comfortable. And this is also an open meeting. You don’t have to be in recovery or an addiction problem or be an alcoholic to be here. So if you have friends or family members that you’d like to introduce to the program or what you see and learn here, bring them along.

03:39 Simon: And we also are going to record these meetings. So we’re going to record the speaker, we’re going to put that on the website and we would also like to include the discussion that we do afterwards. So we’ll have a microphone that we can pass around and if you want to share, but you don’t feel comfortable having yourself recorded, you don’t have to take the microphone. And we won’t include that in… Oh, and we’ll put that on the secularAAspeaker.org website. I think that’s it. Tonight, happy to introduce Bill W. He’s got a book. I think everybody here is familiar with. We’ve been passing around the meetings. You can talk for 20 to 30 minutes about whatever you like.

[applause]

04:18 Bill W: Hello, I’m Bill W… Oh the microphone, yes… I’m Bill W Alcoholic.

04:30 Audience: Hey Bill.

04:32 Bill W: I’m not going to go into a drunk-a-log or any more stories, especially being recorded, I don’t feel comfortable doing that. So, as they say, I was going to talk in a general way. And I hope you don’t mind that, I was also going to talk a little bit about the book, refer to that from time to time, and kind of give you maybe a personal angle as to what I was shooting for…

05:05 Bill W: When I wrote it, I… The book started out from really a stack of notes that had to do with some things I was thinking about it as I sponsored, and mostly I was thinking about someone in their first year. I wanted to lay out, based on my experience, what I had learned, and problems that I had encountered as someone who is agnostic. And coming into as a skeptic, I was fortunate, because I was in… I went to two large cities and my first two years involved a lot of NA in a large city. And so, that was really the first literature I got indoctrinated with. And still, it was kind of scary to come into a meeting or dissettling to see on… The steps on the wall, the 12 steps, and especially looking right at steps two and three. And that I would have to give my will and my life over to God as part of this process. Even when I was younger, maybe… I think I became agnostic at 11 or 12, and it was in a church, and I realized, “I do not know what these people are talking about.” [chuckle] And I was just… And I had to be honest with myself, “What are they talking about?”

06:38 Bill W: This… Is it another voice in their head? Or they hear that their God is directing them and talking to them and telling them, I just couldn’t relate to that. But I did… I kept it to myself when I first came in to NA, I kept it to myself, because of the literature I saw on the walls. But the group seemed… This particular group was very friendly and people came up and introduced themselves, “You know, never have to use, again, keep coming back.” And I just trusted in that. I felt this is kind of a safe… This is a safe place. I just kind of realized that and thought, “I’ll keep coming back.” I learned more. At some point, I started taking some of the practical advice that they were giving me because they said, “Try to make a meeting every day and just repeat this in your head. Don’t use, don’t drink, no matter what, today. Get used to doing this a day at a time. Do it a minute at a time, if you have to.”

07:45 Bill W: That became one of my most valuable tools. I did… Relapse is part of the process for me, and it’s a painful part of the process. And I just had one of those waking up and seeing myself in the mirror and not recognizing who was there. And that was… My first step occurred during one of those looking in the mirror moments and seeing really what was there in it.

08:14 Bill W: As they… Like they say, “The veil was lifted.” And I thought, “Holy cow, I am screwed. I am really screwed.” And I think that’s what the first step is all about, is really cutting that… Enough honesty to cut through the denial, the just layers of rationalization and the games and seeing, “Wow. Oh okay. I see this whole progression now. I see what they’re talking about. I am not in control.” The first step to say, “I’m an addict, I’m an alcoholic. And my life has become unmanageable” is two parts. One, it is my addiction, it’s me and this really… Where I really realized that I was screwed was I realized I’m not in control, but the solution is me too, and if that it’s true, I’ve gotta do something. They were talking about God doing something and I was literally looking at the mirror realizing, “What I had become? Who I had become?” And saying, “Somehow, I’ve got to pull myself out of this. It’s not going to be a supernatural higher power, or a God coming through and saving me.” And I thought, “That’s where I’m screwed. I don’t know what to do.” I did go see a clinical psychologist that was supposed to be and was an addiction expert and we did these little tests and we had this little talk and he said, “You’re very brain damaged.” [laughter] He did.

10:00 Bill W: He said, “I don’t think you’re going to be as functional as you were.” And he said, “Go to AA, find God, if you have to. Go to AA.” [laughter] And he… I said in the book, he never offered any follow-up. And to tell you the truth, I wasn’t interested in any follow-up. And I left there and I said, “I’ve gotta do something.” After the first step when… We were talking about this earlier today, early recovery sucks, it really does. It was not a conscious contact with anything supernatural, it was a conscious contact with the consequences of my addiction and alcoholism. And that’s what I needed, was a conscious contact with that crisis. It sucks. It’s painful, but it’s the pain, that motivation, it’s going to… In my experience, it was the pain that motivation was born from.

11:00 Bill W: And once I did that first step, I did ask… I was so desperate. I had heard someone at the NA meetings who I liked what they said and I said, “I’m not going to relapse. I’m going to follow another piece of advice.” So I was going to do it a day at a time, and I heard “Get a sponsor. If you’re relapsing, try something new.” And so I did. I asked this person to be my sponsor. And he told me something that I also believe in. Once you do that first step and you get both parts of that first step. One, I’m an addict, I’m an alcoholic, and I’m not in control of it, and my attempt to control it have failed and probably will continue to fail, then he believed do a step two and a step three quickly, because once you realize how… Once I realized how screwed I was, then I needed to get to some sort of foundation to try something new.

12:02 Bill W: Because really for days, I was just going around and it just kept going through my head, “What am I going to do? What am I going to do and I don’t have their God? I don’t think I’m going to find their God?” As I was doing the steps, steps two and three formally, writing them out, I just said, “I’m going to have to re-word these.” And we had a discussion about it. This person was a person of faith, my sponsor, NA sponsor. And I said, “Look, I’m just being honest, and if I’m going to be honest about these steps, I’m going to have to rewrite them.” And he said, “You know, that makes sense. Let’s go ahead and do that.” And I said, “What I’m going to have faith in is a plan. And once I understand the plan, once I build faith in that plan, I think I can get to step three, which to me just means make a decision to work that plan. Show up and do it. There is not going to be any writing to my step three really. It is going to be with the actions.” And it worked out. It worked out.

13:08 Bill W: Really, I got to 90 days and it stabilized my thinking. [chuckle] I don’t think… I was quite as brain damaged, I think I could have had [chuckle] passed on to… It was very simple writing test. [chuckle] And just a couple of numbers and… Jeez, I was struggling with it, but at 90 days, it made, the plan made more sense and I was building more faith in it. And the tools were so simple and yet they were things that I wouldn’t have figured out on my own. To do this a day at a time was not a concept I was thinking about.

13:49 Bill W: Anyway, I went on to do that and I was lucky to find a sponsor like I found. And I was… I moved on to another city, that was a larger city, plenty of meetings, and I did start going more to AA and I learned, “Oh, NA, this is the parent of NA, AA. Oh, here’s the original literature and it’s 1930s literature. And it’s a little different but okay.” I remember, even then, thinking, “This Bill Wilson guy, I think he might be a little bipolar. He’s a little [chuckle] over the top with some of his literature that when we let go absolutely,” and I thought like “Let go absolutely. I’m used to… ” I’m a biologist, so I see everything is a step-by-step process. I knew I had some different ideas, then what I’m hearing.

14:46 Bill W: And to tell you the truth, there is a difference between the literature and what happens in a lot of meetings. Yes, there definitely is a difference that needs to be addressed. And the reason why it needs to be addressed is because the things we need to learn early on can’t be left to chance. Finding, for many who are coming in to recovery now, if finding the kind of religion that the original 100 founders had, is simply not going to work. And to tell them to depend on having this religious experience. And I, even early on, I just couldn’t accept that, “Oh, this is a spiritual program, not religious,” telling me to give my will and my life over to God, that’s about as religious as it gets. But as I got to know people, it was okay. And when I began to say that I was secular, that I was agnostic, people would introduce themselves and say, “Okay, you can do it that way. We do it that way.” So, it worked a little bit differently than in the literature.

16:03 Bill W: A lot of recovery happens and I still believe in the importance of the meeting after the meeting, and in those smaller groups where everybody… You’re already accepted in these groups. You’re meeting at the diners and everybody can talk much more openly, much more honestly than in a meeting of 40 or 50 people, especially in the traditional meeting where you’re an atheist, or agnostic, or skeptic and you’re questioning the very wording of the 12 steps and wanting a wording that works for you. And the truth is, I do believe in a secular approach that does not reject religion or spirituality, but doesn’t leave it… Leaves it optional. So, it doesn’t reject it, but it doesn’t force it in any way either.

17:02 Bill W: In writing this book, I realized what I was searching for then with… 16 years later, in writing this, I realize that when we’re talking about secular 12-step recovery, we are talking about a framework that is much more inclusive and universal and we go looking for those essentials that seem to have worked for so many. And secular 12-step recovery is not original and it doesn’t need to be separate from AA or NA. I’ve been told that on multiple occasions, “You, people, need to start your own meeting, like NA did.” And I’m not a believer in that, and I’m certainly not a believer in newcomer coming in now.

18:01 Bill W: I say I was lucky and fortunate enough that by chance, I had the right meetings and the right sponsor. Fast forward a few years, I ended up in Louisiana and this is North Louisiana, this isn’t New Orleans, Baton Rouge. We don’t have that sort of meetings. We have towns that have one meeting and we come… It is the heart of the Bible Belt. It’s rural and newcomers here, when they try to find a sponsor, you’re not going to get this unless you find God. And that is… And I hear, I have been… Generally, I am welcome in my home town meeting. I don’t push a secular point, of course not, point of view. I have been shut down once or… Actually twice. Or, immediately after I talk, someone will say, “That’s not AA. What you gentlemen… What you people heard is not… ” It is AA. It is.

19:12 Bill W: And it’s important that AA sticks to what they found worked even in the beginning, and that is fellowship, that is accepting of one another, because that’s what they didn’t have available until Bill W and Dr. Bob found that an alcoholic helping an alcoholic is what works. And really, what was original, it’s odd that they didn’t see that, because religion was there already. The Oxford group, from which AA came, was a Christian evangelical group. So, the reliance on God was already there, had been there, and it wasn’t medicine, it wasn’t anything a clinical specialist… What was new to this new method was one alcoholic accepting and helping another. So that we don’t have to do this alone because in that first step, that’s when I realized, I’m screwed because I can’t do this alone, I’m not in control. My efforts to control what is going on with me have failed. At this point, I had to break the ego enough to say, “I’m going to have to ask for help.” And NA and AA both, they offered me help that was 24/7. And really, there were times when I did need to make a call at midnight. And I did follow [chuckle] my sponsor, I didn’t drink first and then, [chuckle] if you took that drink already don’t call.

[laughter]

21:03 Bill W: You call me the day after, but if you have a plan, then call before that. And so after… I do, I break down the step work into three phases. Phase one is steps 1, 2, 3 and then we get 90 days. And the important tools for me was to learn to do this a day at a time, to really get in that mode of… Every day when I got up, I said, “Don’t drink or use no matter what today, call my sponsor today, make a meeting today.” I did a 180 and 90 I didn’t… [chuckle] I did much more than 90, 90, I was desperate. The second phase was, it got really interesting, that steps four through nine. And I now look at that as a reconstruction phase, reconstructing myself as a person. It’s funny because the tools that are useful during that phase are inventory. Inventory, it helps and it creates awareness. And again, the process is action-based, work-based.

22:32 Bill W: So we do that inventory and I created awareness and that was a hard phase for me, during that phase, looking at the evidence of how I had treated people. It was probably during that phase, it fully hit me that, “Wow, all this time I thought I was just hurting myself.” And I would even say that, “What do you care? I’m just hurting myself. Yes, I realize I’m an alcoholic.” But it was during that four-step inventory that… How can I avoid it? I was looking at the evidence, I was being honest and I said, “I’m a terrible person.” And that really… I thought, “Why should I even try to get sober? Maybe I should die out there.” Or pair of ragged claws [chuckle] going across the floors of silence. So you kind of feeling about myself. And this is another time when it made a huge difference not doing this alone, because it would have stayed at that state of mind, I think, alone. And having people accept me and being able to talk someone… To someone about it. And during that process was really important.

23:49 Bill W: What I got from the fifth step, the first time going through it, afterwards I thought, I was expecting, “Oh, a confession. This is going to change me somehow.” And that wasn’t the big effect, it was, “My goodness, I really trusted a person.” And to realize, “Wow, I could really… I can trust somebody again, I can be honest with someone at that level again.” The change that was supposed… I thought was supposed to happen doing the fourth and the fifth step, where I realized what… And I still… I do like the term defects of character, to where I wrote down people close to me. I wrote down my transgressions and I saw… And this is straight from the Oxford group to AA that there were all these defects, but most of it really did boil down to fear and especially selfishness.

24:51 Bill W: Selfishness is chief among a lot of… You can be effective just saying, “You know what, I’m just going to boil it all down to self-centeredness.” And I think that would work. And I saw, “Wow, I really was hurting all these people all along and… ” But the change, the fourth and fifth steps, most of it was done in those meetings after the meeting, it wasn’t done in one moment. That’s probably a big difference between secular recovery and the traditional recovery that retains its ties to evangelism, is that evangelism has this mindset of the miracle, a miraculous moment that will create recovery and with… I’m a biologist, so I’m an evolutionist and I see a process, that step-by-step of gradual change over time. And sometimes there are big changes, sometimes there are big moments, but a lot of it is earned and learned process. And Bill Wilson saw that when he discussed varieties, and I believe it’s in Appendix 2 of The Big Book. There’re honest moments with Bill W where he says, “You know what, a lot of it isn’t burning bush.” I know… You know.

[laughter]

26:22 Bill W: There’s a lot of it during the first hundreds of pages leading up to this appendix. But [chuckle] the truth is, there is a process to it and it’s important. I started making enough recovery to start building 48 hours, 72 hours just by following the practical advice, to sweat through it, do it a day at a time, and stay with us. Don’t swim around the rescue boat, get in the boat. And then I made more progress when I started that phase two and really started the ground work of, “Okay, I am self-centered, I am impulsive. I need to work on these things.” Now, I look at it in a bigger picture in that I think sometimes it helps me to think of a person as a robot. And it really is during our childhood that we’re programmed, first programmed, and through experience, we learn about the world, we put together our character, our self-image, who we are, we slowly put together values. We move from a time of complete dependence and up to independence and accountability and for us as… When alcoholism and addiction build themselves, it re-programs us and we will regress, we will lose those as the addiction and the alcoholism becomes more and more important, more and more of our drive, we just lose that.

28:22 Bill W: And socializing, being part of a family, being part of a team at work, doing well at school. All of these fall by the way side. More and more our world gets smaller and smaller and more centered on that drive, that addictive drive, and it is physically written upon us. And when I look at early recovery now I think the addictive drive is the enemy. Are you going to try to use, let’s say willpower? I can muscle through this with willpower. Guess what? The parts of the brain that are involved in that it is a real re-programming of the brain, is a real physiology, and the parts of the brain involved are the machinery of willpower. And that’s why with an alcoholic or not, actually with the biology of addiction they’re the same. Alcoholism is a form of addiction. But I still like to keep them both separate out of respect to AA and its tradition. So even though I’ll use them interchangeably, at a AA meeting, I will separate alcoholism out of respect. But it doesn’t matter, either one, once it’s well established there is a willpower. Take away the alcoholic’s freedom, take away their money, take away their car, they’re still going to get a drink. The addict is still going to get a drug. Incredible, [chuckle] incredible willpower and it’s working against them. Screwed, you’re screwed [chuckle] when you realize that.

30:04 Bill W: And so, that’s the process, it’s a slow process, it’s phase one. Just get the 90 days, start clearing your head out enough, get honest enough that you can start working with another person and within a fellowship. In phase two, start changing yourself is what I found I was doing, learning how to do that so that instead of these defects… I came before I had a drink or a drug, I was defective. I didn’t… Not I don’t want to go into childhood or anything like that, but there was pieces I was missing. That first programming didn’t… Left some gaps, and because I was self-centered even then, I interacted with people in such a way that created, it was dysfunctional, it created stress. My first drink, I kind of was ready for it. It worked, it worked beautifully. That stress went away. I didn’t feel like I was dysfunctional. I felt powerful in the drugs, even the stronger drugs worked even better. They do work. They are rewarding at first, but then I depended on them too much.

31:28 Bill W: So during that reconstructive phase I needed to tear down what I was, and if I did… During my childhood, you need pick up some things like accountability, responsibility, honesty, then I needed to recover those. If I didn’t get them during childhood then now is the time to build them, and it was simple. What I liked about the 12-step plan was I could do that, and it was not rocket science. The basic values were very simple, and really it didn’t matter whether I came to these values through Christianity, or through reason, or through secular humanism or whatever; it was the same values. So I was working with people… My recovery network was people who were skeptics, and it was people who were people of faith; didn’t matter. So it worked quite well.

32:28 Bill W: The last phase is more of a long-term phase, maybe finding purpose through service, extending… Once incorporating these positive values, extending it even more into our lives. And again, I don’t like to hear that, “Oh yeah, you people need to separate out and form your own group.” No, no. We have so much in common, and through the 80 years since AA was formed, we have been doing this together. And it wouldn’t hurt to have some new words that simplify things a little bit. We can remove religion from recovery and leave it as a viable option for anyone to put their… On top of this basic framework, and on top of the essentials of what work, add what you like to add in the way of your religious views and your beliefs, or philosophies. If it’s not religion, your personal philosophies will work just fine. And that’s… I think I’ll stop there. Oh, I probably went a little bit over.

[chuckle]

33:41 Bill W: But… Okay.

[applause]

33:49 Simon: Is there anybody who has a… That has something they’d like to start with?

33:53 Leigh: My name’s Leigh, and I am an alcoholic.

33:56 Audience: Hi, Leigh.

33:57 Leigh: One of the themes that I think you implied and that I think is very, very powerful in both your perspective as well as the perspective of other recovering formats has to do with the extreme isolation that is in fact encountered, and the importance of being… Of the initial search for help, to be able to find some kind of a connectivity that reduces that isolation. And the secular as well as the traditional literature really does not look at isolation in enough depth. And as I said, I think you certainly implied that in your own journey, but I think as you articulate some more of your experience and your ideas, to share that piece of it as you realized it would add to the message.

34:57 Richard: I’m not sure I really know what to say, but I am one of those persons in early recovery; in my first three months. And we spoke earlier and I talked about the second and third step and how it’s hard to look at it as not… I don’t know how you’d take God out of two and three, so I was listening to you and trying to… And I didn’t have a chance to read any of the book today because I had other things to do, but I’m still trying to find that plan after 90 days. And the most important thing to me has been just to go to as many meetings as possible. And it’s funny, I go to a lot of meetings and everybody always talks about how there’s so many meetings in Kansas City, but there really aren’t [chuckle], and if there are they’re all at the same time at different places. So if you’re not available at noon, or at six, or at 7 o’clock, there’s not… I don’t know of a lot of other options, so I wish there were more.

35:53 Richard: But one question I had for you, so when you moved to Louisiana, there’s only the one meeting in the one town, are they saying and are you saying that you shouldn’t start your own meeting? And there aren’t other people that would want to be part of a non-God-based, higher Power meeting? Because to me it seems like that’s… Like at my church where I go, which is just down the street from All Souls, we do a lot of really wonderful outreach, and I’ve always been surprised that there’s not an AA meeting there, or that we don’t do anything for alcoholics and addicts because we do so many other wonderful things. So I thought to myself, “I know other… I know members who are alcoholics there. I don’t know where they go, because they don’t go to St. Andrews, they don’t go to the Free Thinkers, they don’t go to the We Agnostics, so I don’t know where they go.” But anyway, so I was just thinking about that. Were you saying that you shouldn’t do that? You should just go to the… Stick with the AA meeting, even though it doesn’t fit your views of the secular steps?

37:04 Bill W: It’s kind of the number of skeptics and like-minded people are too few. And yes, in my area, there really are too few to sustain a meeting.

37:17 Richard: Well but how do you know that?

37:18 Bill W: Yeah. Oh, I’m… I talk about that, and a lot of times I’ll talk more in a secular way when I see that there are newcomers coming to our meeting, because often, if one of them is atheist or agnostic or uncomfortable with the higher power or reliance-on-God concept, after they hear me talk, we’ll talk and they’ll say, “I’m interested in that. That appeals to me.” And most of the people that I’ve sponsored since I’ve been down there I’ve met that way. If there’s no one new, I tend to share in a more general way and not talk so much about secular adaptations and things, and it works out. Here, it’s the meeting after the meeting that like-minded people can meet and discuss it.

38:16 Bill W: It’s kind of interesting though, because I was talking one time and there was a young person who was Pentecostal, and said, “Look, I’m Pentecostal. I do believe that God is going to be involved in it, but I’m very interested in this biology. It makes sense to me.” And even at his church, they had these Life Groups, and they were all Pentecostals, and it was a group of six altogether, and I was invited out to explain the [chuckle] biology. So I do believe in smaller groups of like-minded people helping each other out, calling each other, supporting each other. But I think the group, overall, with the diversity, we can work together on it too. And I was really humbled to be asked to this Life Group and to share with a group of people who have very strong faith in an interventionist deity, really, to say, “We’re also interested in the biology. We’re getting something from this.” And over the years, I have gotten something from them as well. As an agnostic, really, my value system was weak, and I learned a lot from people of faith of how to strengthen that. And so, yeah. Does that answer your question?

39:47 Richard: Yeah.

39:48 John: Hello. I’m John, I’m an alcoholic.

39:49 Audience: Hey, John.

39:50 John: So normally we don’t talk about the God/no God thing, which is probably [chuckle] good, but I do think it’s necessary, because if you’re interested in the steps and they’re written one way, it leaves me out. I’ve been in AA for 25 years and all of a sudden felt like I didn’t fit in any more, and if it wasn’t for having this option within Alcoholics Anonymous, I would not be coming to meetings, I really wouldn’t. So this was really helpful to me. The thing that I guess I wanted to say is that, and Bill talked about this a little bit in his talk today, is that I think so much of our recovery is organic. It just happens naturally from our coming together and a desire to support one another in our efforts to be clean and sober. And I observed that in our group when we all just get together. And I’ve mentioned this before, I think the best part of the meeting for me is when I’m leaving at night and I see you guys hanging out, although you probably shouldn’t be smoking. I’m happy to see you [laughter] gathering together, having cigarettes and chatting. It’s just really warms my heart to see that, because I remember that’s what was really making the difference for me when I was starting out. It was like you said, Leigh, breaking out of that goddamn isolation because addiction is such a lonely thing, alone, hiding from our problems and so forth. So anyway, thank you very much, Bill, for sharing.

41:16 Carmen: Again, formally, thank you, sir, for what you’re doing, actually. I am an atheist, and there are a little less than a handful of us, I would think, that are hardcore atheist that do not subscribe to the term “agnostic,” because we’ve done our homework and we know what atheism is about. My question to you is, you just now made a comment that your agnostic leanings provided you with an idea that perhaps you were less than adequate in terms of your values. Are you saying, and I’m not trying to be argumentative, but it’s one of my frustrations of secular AA that tries to be a tolerant and all-encompassing and exclusively inclusive by, “Yeah, I don’t believe what you’re saying, but here’s some biology for you. I’d like for you to be at the meeting anyway.” I came to a secular AA, not as an extension of AA, but as an alternative to it. And so if there’s an implication that because of my belief system, I am “less than” in terms of values, then I balk at that. Do you think…

42:36 Bill W: Yes.

42:37 Carmen: Can you expound on what you meant by saying that you were less than with your agnostic…

42:43 Bill W: No, you bring up a good point, and I’m really glad you did. No, when I meant that, I didn’t mean that atheists or agnostics or skeptics are less than in their values. I think, if anything, they’re truer to their values than what a lot of religion [chuckle] overall has been. No, I was talking about myself, personally. And when I see agnosticism and atheism, I do see people like scientist, like Richard Dawkins or somebody.

[background conversation]

43:24 Bill W: Yes and very strong values and bringing a better process really so that values are brought into reality more consistently than… If that answers your question, yes. And so, I really meant it as a person, my personal values. That they were strengthened both by fellow skeptics and also people of faith.

43:53 Simon: I don’t know, it’s really hard to explain to somebody new to this exactly how excruciating the beginning can be. Or it was for me and I know of others that it was… I guess I appreciated you touching on that. No, there was no way of explaining it I guess to anybody what I was going through. It was so hellish and there wasn’t a miracle that was to be had that could have taken away just the physical and physiological withdraws and changes that were happening. I guess another thing, Jim brought up a little bit, you had mentioned a couple of times about not having to start your own group just because you’re secular, and that is exactly what we have done here. But yeah, if I was at a meeting and somebody told me “You need to start your own secular group.” Like “Stop that talk here.” I’d be like, “Fuck you.”

[laughter]

44:55 Simon: This discussion needs to happen, but at the same time we do get a lot of people that come into these rooms either from other meetings because they’ve been turned away or scared away for the first time to these meetings, because they don’t want to go to AA because of the religious aspect and it’s I guess… I don’t… I personally don’t have to have a secular meeting to enjoy AA. I really like the meetings that I go to, but I really wanted this kind of discussion when I was first getting sober, and it’s hard to find in some places. I’ve been to AA in small towns and man just knowing that this discussion is happening and it’s legitimate is very important to me, anyway.

45:39 Greg: I’m Greg and I’m an acoholic.

45:41 Audience: Hi Greg.

45:41 Greg: Congratulations to Leigh, I’m very pleased for you. And to you sir, for writing this book. Yeah, I am very, very glad that what we do here and other people do in the same vein, and what you’re doing in the book is beginning to seep out and there are… I think in small towns or big towns there are always seekers looking for a different language, a different way to express who they are. And you’re taking that on by expressing enough so that they can come to you and tell me about the biology, tell me about how this works, how do you… So that they can fill that void, they might be having, or that curiosity that they might be having. So I’m very pleased that you’re doing what you’re doing in a small town, but you’re stretching out to us as well. And they can… I think if they get a hold of your book, they can see that they can do the same thing. I just can’t believe that in a small religious area, there’s not a few of us knocking around the backwoods somewhere.

[laughter]

46:45 Greg: I’ll pass.

46:47 Simon: That’s it.

[chuckle]

46:49 Simon: We’re pretty close to wrapping up time anyway, so let’s all hug.

[chuckle]

[background conversation]

[music]


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