Episode 133: A Conversation with Barbara G.

Barbara G. had her last drink in Munich, Germany in 1983, and the god bit gave her trouble from her first AA meeting. However, she quickly learned to interpret the Steps to comport with her agnostic worldview. Now living in Maryland, Barbara attends meetings at the We Agnostics, Atheists, and Freethinkers group in Frederick, Maryland. In this episode, Barbara briefly shares her story, and then we have an interesting conversation covering topics such as the challenges facing agnostics and atheists in AA, the importance of unity within the Fellowship, and more. 

Mentioned in this episode: 

Transcript

John: Hello, how are you?

Barbara: I’m fine.

John: It’s nice to have you here. You know, I forgot where you’re from.

Barbara: I’m from Maryland.

John: Oh, how nice. So, you’re close to where the convention is going to be. The International Conference of Secular AA.

Barbara: Yeah, that is not far, so we’ll see. I have not been able to attend any of those others because of scheduling conflicts. I just haven’t… We’ll see what works out. Life happens, so…

John: This year they will have both the International Conference of Secular AA, and also the International AA Conference. I’ve been asked if I will attend  both of them, but I don’t know if I can.

Simone the Cat: Meooow.

John: Oh, you have a cat!

Barbara: This is Simone, and she wants to participate.

John: She can. I have a cat too. Now, I have two cats and one of them is really mean and she’ll jump up on my desk sometimes, and she won’t let me use my keyboard or mouse.

Barbara: Well, she’s jealous. I know this one, when people call me, she talks on the phone. So, it’s just the way it is. Anyway, we’ll see how it goes, that’s way down the road and I’m really big on one day at a time.

John: Yeah, really. Who knows what’s going to happen? You’re right. Okay, so we’re here to talk about you, we’re here to do a podcast about you. Why don’t you go into your story, and we’ll take it from there?

Barbara: I’ve been sober for 36 years, and I came from an alcoholic family. There were two alcoholics in my family, one of whom was on Skid Row in New York, so we’re talking the bottom there. He survived because my mother stopped him from drinking. She was an unrecovered Al-anon. She had control of his money, so he couldn’t drink. That was the family history and my mother was very angry because she couldn’t control the alcoholics in her life, so I didn’t dare drink at home.

Barbara: I did not start drinking until college. I was a socially awkward introvert away from home for the first time and the way to fit in was to drink beer. I don’t like beer, but I figured out early on that once I got through the first beer it didn’t matter after that. I would just continue drinking, so I learned to chug the first beer, so I could get to the drunk part, faster. And what’s amazing to me that first year of my drinking career, I don’t have a really long one, but is that I could drink so much, and mix any drinks and never get sick and never have a hangover. That just totally blew my mind that first year. That changed and I also noticed a definite increase in tolerance in only a few months’ time. It was amazing to me. I didn’t know any of this stuff until I came into the rooms.

Barbara: During my sophomore year of college, my drinking got modified, and I moderated because I met my husband and I fell in love. Just like what the Big Book says.

John: How about that? 

Barbara: Yeah, what a concept. And we’ve been married almost 47 years, and thanks to recovery. We are still married. I don’t know if my marriage would have survived had it not been for long-term recovery. 

Barbara: We got married my senior year and he had to go to another location to graduate school, and I was left by myself and I got depressed. So, I started binging and particularly on weekends. That was always a big problem and I almost failed my final semester of college because of my drinking. One day the professor called me, and he says, “You’re going to fail this class. It’s amazing to me how powerful denial is. I was a scholarship student. If you don’t do the work, you’re not going to pass the class. I was totally oblivious to that because of the drinking. So, I did make it through, but it was by the skin of my teeth. 

Barbara: I have a family history of drinking, and there’s mental illness along with that. My mental illness is depression, and my first depression, was when I was eight years old. That’s a major trigger for my drinking. So, here is my antidepressant. It’s alcohol. That doesn’t work very well because it makes you more depressed, but I didn’t know that. 

Barbara: So, I started my marriage, and at a certain point I became seriously suicidal. I was drinking, but my addiction started out with an eating disorder in childhood, so I was doing both. for me, alcohol and eating disorders are linked. I can’t do one without the other being a problem. I have to be in recovery for both. 

Barbara: My sponsor at the time was very, very insightful. She knew that I was suicidal, and she knew probably intuitively, that I had the means to kill myself, and she asked me to call her in 15 minutes and what happened was that I threw away the pills. I knew that they would kill me. 

Barbara: There was a severe health crisis in my family during this period of time, so that just made everything worse. At some point, I decided I could drink at work, as long as it was after 3 o’clock on a Friday afternoon. So, I was doing controlled drinking on the weekend and that was a disaster because what ended up happening is, I ended up in a blackout. I could have easily died by choking to death on my own vomit. I did not. At that point, I committed. In needed to stop drinking. I need to go to a meeting, and I needed to say, “I’m Barbara and I’m an alcoholic. I must stop drinking.” 

Barbara: At this point I had already met my current sponsor. I’ve known her for 40 years, she’s celebrating 40 years of sobriety, next month, which is really, really cool. So anyway, I committed to sobriety and started going to meetings. 

Barbara: Shortly after that, my husband who was in the military, got transferred to Germany. So, here we have this big adjustment again. I had a big depression. I was sick off and on for the first several months that I lived there, just adjusting to all the germs that they have there. I had several slips in Germany just because we had a cultural difference. Like one time I went into a restaurant and I ordered tomato soup, and it was laced with gin. When I tell that story today, it makes people crack up. We don’t expect that, right? Just unexpected alcohol! So, that was a lot of my problem and, of course, once I got started, it was a problem. Then I had to start over and go on day one. So, I had a number of white chips during that period. 

Barbara: My last drunk was in Munich. I was on a bus to Munich and I got so sick that I was pacing the hotel at 3 AM with horrible abdominal pain. I never had that reaction to wine or any drinking ever like that. And that was my last drunk and was interesting is that I didn’t realize until a few weeks ago, that the trigger was visiting Dachau. 

John: Oh my god. 

Barbara: So, I was totally oblivious to that reality. That was my last drunk. 

Barbara: I had a friend in another program who was an atheist, and she told me about secular AA. I had no knowledge of anything, secular whatsoever. Because there’s all these organizations for atheists. I call myself an agnostic and have been an agnostic for 40 years at least. Before that I probably was, I just didn’t know the term I didn’t understand the term. 

Barbara: That’s how I found you and other podcasts. So, I’ve been exploring this whole community and it was fascinating to me. What was interesting about my background is, my father was an atheist, he was closeted. In the 1950s, you did not discuss being an atheist. But he would make these little remarks here and there, and it’s like, well, he’s different, he’s not religious like my mother. I don’t know what that means, but it’s just… It was noticeable. So, I started exploring this whole thing. I had not been going to many AA meetings. Because I find the meetings closing with the Lord’s Prayer to be very, extremely annoying. 

John: I was wondering about that. So, did you get sober with traditional AA, meetings, when you first started going? 

Barbara: Yes, I did. There was nothing in 1982-83. There was nothing. I was in a military community, we had a women’s meeting, there were like six or eight of us. I mean like 90% of the AA members were guys, soldiers and of course. So, I went to this woman’s meeting and what was interesting to me is that there was this one old timer, a woman and she says, “Well you didn’t drink enough. 

John: Oh, great. 

Barbara: So, Tradition Three. I knew about Tradition Three. I was going to traditional AA, meetings and talking to my sponsor and all this time, and in later years, maybe after the first couple of years, I wasn’t going to as many because I was just uncomfortable for a lot of years. When I visited my sponsor, I would go to meetings with her and I’d be just fine. My sponsor lives in the Bible Belt. I don’t know. 

John: So, were you able to identify that it was The God talk that was making you uncomfortable? 

Barbara: The God talk was always uncomfortable for me since the first time. That’s why I didn’t work the 12 Steps, all of them until 1983. I was going to meetings off and on, but I didn’t work the 12 Steps because it was just a big huge barrier and in that period of time, there was a book. Now, at that time, the “Alternative 12 Steps” had not yet been published. That was years in the future. I didn’t find that book until the first edition it was around. 

Barbara: There was a book called The 12 Steps for Everyone Who Really Wants Them. It was out of print for a while. You can get it now; you can buy vintage copies and you can get it. And the take home from that book was gender neutral steps, and that was a set that helped me to separate from the Christian language. There is very Christian-oriented language in the Big Book. So, as the Big Book says, “Don’t let any prejudice, you may have against spiritual terms prevent you from asking what they mean to you.” And I said, “Okay, I’m going to reword this stuff.” 

Barbara: I mean, yeah, I didn’t come up with elegant language. I just didn’t. I just started reframing it like the Big Book says, “Are you willing to even willing to believe in a power greater than myself?” Well, I have a lower barrier, and my lower barrier was elsewhere, in the Big Book where it says, “I said to myself, I’m willing to grow along spiritual lines.” Now I have a very broad interpretation of the word “spiritual”, to me, spirituality are those areas of life that are beyond the limits of science. 

Barbara: For example, great music is a lot more than sound frequencies. Great art is a lot more than pigments on a canvas. We can analyze these things scientifically, but there’s something more, and that something more is what I call spirituality. There is no need to believe in any divinity to accept that for me. 

Barbara: So, I’ve always been coming up with these little ways of dealing with the issue of the 12 Steps. Step Three was a toughie. Way back when. I got around Step Three in the 70s. I was having trouble; I called my sponsor. After I got off the phone, I called these two newcomers and if you remember in the Big Book it says, “this works when all else fails.” Just working and talking with these newcomers. I said, “Oh okay, I don’t know what this is, but I feel love for these people. I can trust that. That’s how I did Step Three, way back when. 

Barbara: So, it’s always been this figuring it out and whatever. Separating from Christianity took me a very long time. I’ve been very close-mouthed about it. For me to come out about this is huge. I was really hesitant to email you for months, because of just coming out, but I believe that it’s really important for people to hear that the 12 Steps work perfectly fine if you don’t believe in a divinity. 

John: Yeah, that’s really amazing to me that back in 1983, you found a book, and you already started looking at the Steps in your own language and reinterpreting them. Which is really pretty much what everybody has to do anyway, if they’re going to work the Steps. I also like that line in the Big Book that “we should ask ourselves, what spiritual terms mean to us”, not necessarily what they mean to Bill Wilson, or Dr. Bob, or the guys who wrote the Big Book, but what do they mean to us? 

John: That’s pretty much how I kind of approached it too. I was a little bit different than you in that, I think I was probably agnostic or atheist and didn’t really think about it or know about it. Then, when I got to AA, I just kind of fell in line. I tried to rationalize in my head what I was hearing, and then I would regurgitate what I was hearing it. I just kind of learned the lingo and went along with it. You know, I guess that was okay, but it wasn’t until many, many years later, and it’s really, even now, that I’m realizing to what extent I found myself conforming to what was being done in the meetings. That’s kind of what I did. 

Barbara: I did in a way, but I stayed silent. Now, I re-read Jim Burwell ‘s story in the Big Book, recently. I also read his story that was reprinted in “The Big Tent” recently. In fact, when I was, I said I’ve got to read this and what it seemed to me what he did, he did not say, “I fell out of bed, and I came to believe,” he didn’t say that. He just stopped arguing. That’s what I got from his story, and it was silent. So, if I don’t agree with something, or I don’t believe something I don’t talk about it. I just stay quiet about it. I look for the areas where I relate rather than get all hung up and. I’ve had my angry times. I don’t think you can be an agnostic and not have anger. I mean I have it, especially in AA. 

John: Did you notice it, over time, from the 1980s that AA was becoming more rigid and more religious, or do you think it’s pretty much the same? 

Barbara: I think I heard you talk about that recently. And it’s probably true, and I think it’s because AA goes along with an increased rigidity in society. I think because AA is part of society, and so it doesn’t surprise me at all. And yes, and I’ve been pushing back against a number of people who want me to fit into their box, and I just want to do it. I all that the square peg trying to fit into a round hole, and I’ve been a square peg and I would shave off the corners a little bit, and I think that’s what Burwell did.

Barbara: I think he shaved off the corners, so he could kind of fit in. But I get nothing from what I read in those two stories. I don’t know, there might be more information about him, that he ever came to believe that would be an interesting question. I don’t know, like the story “Our Southern Friend”. He was the guy who fell out of bed, asked himself, “Who are you to believe there is no God?” I think that was the story. 

Barbara: I recently led a meeting on that. What was interesting, is it’s a Big Book meeting. I go to a Big Book meeting every week. I started going to this meeting, and this was the first meeting in my area, the only meeting in my area that did not close with the Lord’s Prayer. That’s why I do that, and when I heard about secular AA from this other member from another fellowship, I started searching and I said, “Sooner a later there’s going to be a We Agnostics meeting in my town.”

Barbara: And that happened 18 months ago. I just waited. I couldn’t start it. I didn’t have the energy. I just waited until our We Agnostics meeting started, and I got there as soon as I could. I was so excited. It’s a wonderful meeting. We’re not terribly big.

Barbara: We read a story from “Big Tent” recently and I think it was written by a woman. I think it was towards the beginning of the book, and the sharing that everybody was doing was just magnificent. I was just blown away. I haven’t been blown away by a meeting for a long time and there’s good meetings and then there’s blown away meetings. This was blown away meeting because these new people come in and they want to get sober, but the God stuff is a huge barrier for them. And to have that meeting available, I’m just so excited that we have it now, because we didn’t have it for a long time.

John: Yeah, it truly is interesting to see those new people who are coming into these secular meetings who have not had the experience with the traditional type of meeting. We have a lot of new people in our group. They don’t know an AA, where you close the Lord’s Prayer. They don’t know an AA, where people talk about higher power all the time. I just wonder what it would be like for these people if they went and visited these other meetings? I think that they know because the thing is, when people go to an AA meeting now, they have what you and I didn’t have. They have access to information on the Internet. They do their research, and they read about AA and they say, “Oh, it’s religious,” and so then they won’t even give it a chance. Then they’ll find our secular meeting and go to that.

John: When I was getting sober in ’88 and you were getting sober in 83, we didn’t have that. I don’t know if you knew, but when I went to AA for the first time, I had no idea that there was any God influence or any religious stuff involved with it, and I was kind of surprised when I saw God written all over the steps.

Barbara: I kind of knew from the beginning, because my first sponsor was a very religious woman and…

John: And you knew her before you went to meetings?

Barbara: Yeah, I met her in 1976, as I was in my other fellowship she was a dual-member, so I was really working with her, but, but also aware she would talk about her drinking history and along with her food history, that’s where it all started, for me, was the food, but she was sober seven years and her sponsor was also a dual member. I don’t know, I think about 20 years sobriety. So, I had exposure to traditional AA from the very beginning through speakers and these people who I knew very well.

John: So, you had an idea of what it was about?

Barbara: I was not surprised at all when I found out about our groups and everything, it didn’t surprise me at all because I was brought up a religious, Catholic. I totally believed everything, so I was basically… I believe my father was a natural born atheist, I don’t think he ever believed He married my mother, so he had to go to church every Sunday. I was created. I was a created atheist as the exposure to religion that was not a positive influence on my life. That’s a long story, but that’s essentially what it was.

Barbara: My father never talked about anything, but I knew he was different. It’s funny because I was Reading “We Agnostics”, which is a very good description of believer’s, stereotypes about atheists and agnostics. It’s amazing. My father never claimed to have proof there was no God.

John: Yeah, who does?

Barbara: I know, but the literature says that we are claiming proof there is no God.  

John: It says that in the 12×12 too, and it drives me crazy. They incorrectly define atheists, and say the atheist is one who knows there’s no God. He doesn’t say that! Anyway, I’m sorry for interrupting you. 

Barbara: And the other thing is “We Agnostics” says that “atheists engage in windy arguments.” There is only one atheist that I know who maybe even came close to that.

Barbara: We’re talking about public people versus just ordinary people, which is what I know. My father, my grandfather, and people in my personal life. But think about it. In 1939, there wasn’t much acknowledgement of anything outside of Christianity. Let’s face it. They knew there were Jewish people. It is just amazing to me how insular they were in the beginning. Then Burwell comes in, he says, “I can’t handle the stuff.” 

Barbara: One of the things that I was going to say, I wanted to tell a story. When I worked all 12 steps for the first time. As I was talking to somebody, this woman said, “Who are you to talk about the Big Book when you don’t believe in God?”

Barbara: It was 1983, okay, and I was stunned into silence. Once I recovered, I called another member, and she said, “Well Big Book Lady. I’ll call her that. I don’t even remember her name. “Big Book Lady is good friends with your sponsor.” And I went, “I see a… This is not good.” 

Barbara: So, I had to part ways with my sponsor, and to my sponsor’s credit, she called me up to make amends. She said she was angry when I got into recovery and I didn’t come to believe. That infuriated her, and she was pretty overt. She was me assigning me this book and it was a book, it was a Christian book that had the 12 steps and Christian stuff, the Bible stuff and everything, and what I was doing was reading this book and skipping over the Bible stuff. 

Barbara: I mean, I am just politely ignoring her. She didn’t say anything to me until this whole incident with this other person, her friend came up. But it’s interesting, this is a common belief. A lot of AAs believe you don’t come to believe you’re not going to recover. I mean it’s kind of, it can be very condescending it’s like, “Oh honey, you’ll get it if you’re really serious you’ll get it and it’s like I’ve been on the receiving end of this stuff a lot of years and I’m just very good at ignoring it, and I understand and newcomer might not be able to work it, and I understand the newcomer who has been traumatized by religion and finds the language in the Big Book triggering. I totally get it. 

Barbara: This person who told me about this, if she listens to this, I want her to call me. She moved out of the area and she’ll know who she is. She was the one who told me about secular AA and AA Agnostica, which is what I found first, and I then I think you came along. I don’t know what year you can started. This whole idea that you’ve got to do it a certain way, there’s one right way to recover. That’s what the attitude is. 

Barbara: I went to the 2010 convention in San Antonio, and I went to the We Agnostics workshop. There were like 200 people in there. So, I was there, and they had three panelists who all started out as atheist and came to believe. After the workshop was over, I was talking to somebody in the hall and I said, “That doesn’t represent it’s not a representation.” 

Barbara: And AA has been just I think they’ve been dragged kicking and screaming into acknowledging that there are people who just don’t come to believe, and they can be sober from lots of years. 

John: I think that is just that that idea is just now becoming more accepted.In my time in AA, it wasn’t. In fact, I remember I had a couple of sponsors tell me that atheists were angry, they were the angriest people, they were the angriest people they ever knew. One sponsor told me if I ever became an atheist, he’d have to fire me. That was the kind of language, I was hearing about non-believers in AA. Isn’t that weird? 

Barbara: It’s not weird. It’s totally unsurprising to me. 

John: Yeah, I mean that’s what the literature says doesn’t it? It says, we’re savages we have windy arguments. 

Barbara: Yeah, well, I mean look at what Dr. Bob said at the end of his story. 

John: Oh, that’s right. 

Barbara: You’re an atheist. I feel sorry for you. 

John: That’s right. 

Barbara: I think one of the things that was fascinating, I think the person who was talking about the history of secular AA or secular people in AA and I actually reread the book about the History AA by I can’t remember… “Not God”, that book. 

John: Oh, Ernest Kurtz. 

Barbara:  Ernest Kurtz, yes Kurtz. 

Barbara: I re-read the book maybe a year or two ago, because it seemed to me and I’m not sure, and this is an interesting question to put out. It seemed to me that there was Akron AA that was super religious and New York AA less so. That’s how I remember it. 

John: Yeah, there was some tension between the two. 

Barbara: Yes, and it seems they don’t talk about that, but you just have to read between the lines because Bill Wilson read that they mentioned in the Big Book about religious psychology. 

John: Oh, William James, Variety of Religious Experiences.

Barbara: Yes, he read that, and it was fascinating to me. I was talking about I think Tradition One comes out of that book because regardless of what religious belief you have, there are commonalities, and Tradition One, you don’t have to agree. You just look at what have in common, and we’re all on the same ship going down on the same lifeboat and focus on that.

Barbara: That’s what I had to do all these years. Focus on how I’m alike rather than worrying about how I’m different. I lived in metropolitan areas for five years in my adult life. Otherwise, I’ve always been in small towns like I am now. Secular meetings and I think Rational Recovery has been around since the 90s. I don’t know but I’ve never had anything like that available. There was a meeting locally, but I think it’s gone or it’s on hiatus that last I heard. Secular Recovery or whatever, I just don’t know what it is, but for those of us who live in small towns, AA is it. 

Barbara: And what has happened to me is that I’ve always been able to find a meeting that was less dogmatic, and I’ve always been able to find people who were more accepting and tolerant, so that I could get what I needed. AA, and 12 programs in general, got me out of religion. I think I would have remained a religious person, if it were not for that. It got me out. It extricated me.

John: Isn’t that interesting?

Barbara: And I’m not the only one who said that. I’ve heard other people say the same thing.

John: How does AA take you out of religion?

Barbara:Because it gave me the support I need to get in recovery, and it gave me the opportunity to explore what spirituality means to me. AA never told me I had to believe, right?

John: That’s interesting because you came from a Catholic background, where it was very, very much the dogma, I guess, of the Catholic church is what you followed and believed.

Barbara: Yes, and nobody ever said you gotta believe this book in a certain way. Not really, my sponsor never said that. I could read for myself and I said, “Okay, I just got to interpret this.

Barbara: And Tradition Three, the long form it says, “We must not turn anyone away who wants to recover, regardless, no exceptions no conformity required, no money or conformity.” I think that’s the language that was in there. That has protected me from those who disapprove of me, and I’ve had them. And I told you about Big Book Lady. Usually it was dirty looks a or of bad vibes that was it. I just stay away from those people and I look towards the people who are supportive. 

Barbara: I did want to, before we got off this and I don’t know how long we’ve been talking, but I wanted to express my opinion, and you can delete this if you wish. I know I would be extremely disappointed if secular AA left AA.

John: I think I would be too. 

Barbara: There are some believers who want us out. That’s why Toronto, happened! 

John: That’s right. There are some believers that when it’s out of us who want to get out too, I’m afraid. 

Barbara: Well, there are, I do understand that and I understand the people who have been, like I said, been traumatized, and I get that, I understand that, but I don’t think that’s going to benefit the common welfare. 

Barbara: Again, those of us who live in small towns, there isn’t going to be a secular meeting for us. It’s just not going to be there. If you live in New York or Los Angeles, there’s lots of meetings, and it can look like… “Oh wow, we’ll be fine. It’s fine here, if we get out on our own.” I just don’t see that being helpful. 

John: That’s a good point about how the larger cities… Yeah, sure they have plenty of meetings, so for them it’s one thing, but it’s different. If you live in a small town in a rural area. Do you happen to know John H. from the DC group? 

Barbara: I don’t know him, I just heard him speak, so I don’t know. 

John: I had him on the podcast. This doesn’t make sense to me, but he wants Secular AA to be separate from AA. The thing about that, it doesn’t make sense because there’s no way you can get all these different AA groups to decide that they want to leave AA. The only way that a person could leave AA is just to stop going to AA meetings. So, I mean if we have these secularly formatted AA meetings, they’re already in AA, and have been in AA for a long time, many of them. So, I don’t understand how they can just decide. There’s no way that all these 500 different groups are going to say, “Oh, we’re no longer in AA.” I just to understand how that can happen. 

Barbara: Well, I mean, it can happen with resentments anything can happen, but I guess I think we could somehow… AA World Services isn’t bothering us. 

John: No, they support us. Were supported really by the General Service structure. It’s only the few rednecks who we might meet in a meeting that don’t like us. 

Barbara: And I think it’s great. One of our regular attendees at my We Agnostics meeting is a Christian. He likes our meeting and there was this other person I know from other meetings and she came. I think it’s great for believers to come to a secular AA meeting, and see we don’t have three heads. 

John: I find it interesting the religious people who like a secularly formatted meeting, because we have some that come to our group too. They are religious and go to church, but they like to keep that separate from their recovery. They want to keep the religious part separate from their recovery. 

Barbara: It’s an outside issue. 

John: Yeah, it is, and it makes sense. I mean, if you’re going to go to a therapist or a doctor, you don’t want to talk about religion, do you? You might want to talk to your preacher about that though. I think it’s good for us to stay firmly within AA. In fact, I think we should really be actively involved with general service because we’re making an impact on AA as a whole. The more of our groups that there are, the more accepting AA will be of newcomers, it’s more likely the rest of the AA members will understand that, that the overzealousness of religion at meetings keeps people away. 

Barbara: It kept me out for years. Just the Lord’s Prayer, turned me off. It’s like, “Don’t you guys get it, if you’re Jewish? This is a Christian it’s a direct quote from one Holy Book. It’s not like the 11th Step Prayer, the St. Francis prayer. He was a Christian, but that doesn’t come out of the Christian Bible. The Lord’s Prayer does, and that’s the argument. I’m still amazed. It stopped being appropriate 80 years ago. 

Barbara: One time in the 70s, I had the audacity to suggest that if we were having meetings in a Jewish neighborhood that maybe the Lord’s Prayer might not be welcoming. They wanted to run me out of town on a rail. The anger coming at me, so I said, “Okay group conscience. I’m not going to be able to argue. 

Barbara: I think that it’s healthy for addicts of whatever kind to learn to live with the discomfort of differences, instead of were right and the rest of the world is wrong. It’s black and white thinking. You have to have rigid rules, get control all of this stuff, and it is uncomfortable. I have two sponsees who are Christians, they are Evangelical Christians and it is not comfortable why they want me to sponsor them. I don’t know but, I stay with them because I want to be able to interact with these people without going into starting an argument or a debate. I just, I want that skill. And there’s an outside thing called “Street Epistemology.” If you don’t know about it, explore it. It’s wonderful. So just look at that. It’s totally outside. 

John: That’s a good point, I think about that sometimes because I don’t really interact with religious people, or even a traditional AA people very often because we do so many secular meetings here. But I think about it sometimes, that it’s probably not really that healthy for me as a person, or for us as a whole to stay in our own individual silos and it seems like that’s just where our society has become. Now that we all watch the news station that’s airing the news from our point of view, we join the Facebook groups where everybody is in accordance to our point of view, you know what I’m saying? It’s like we have our own little silos where we just… We only know people who believe and think like we do and that probably isn’t healthy for society as a whole, if we’re not talking to people who think differently. 

Barbara: Yeah, that’s a good point, that’s a good point. Yeah, I, it’s very uncomfortable, it’s very uncomfortable, but I do believe that I really actively want to work on that. And I had this one sponsee. I was asking her all these questions. Where are you at with this, where you at with that and what happened? And she was like she was saying, “Why do you ask me all these questions?” I said, “I want to know where you’re coming from.” She was uncomfortable because I was making her think why she thought the way. I said, “Well do you feel disrespected?” And she said, “No.” So, we’re still talking… This was months ago. 

Barbara: There are ways. I don’t need to get into a debate. I don’t need to get into arguments, I don’t want to. I don’t want to and like I said, I go to a Big Book meeting every week and maybe it’s my area. We’re suburban Washington DC area. I think it makes a big difference because if I go to a meeting in the Bible belt, it’s going to be a lot more of Jesus. I’ve been to meetings at a lot of places. I’ve been to meetings in Europe, and Hawaii more recently and it’s fascinating to me. None of the AA meetings I went to and Hawaii closed with the Lord’s Prayer, but there’s a lot of Buddhist in Hawaii, there’s a lot of Asians, so it’s a whole different thing and I just really hope that we focus on the 12 Traditions, because if Secular AA separates and doesn’t pay attention to the 12 Traditions, they are not going to be around. 

John: Yeah, I agree, I totally agree, and I think that we’re here to stay, too, by the way. I’ve really enjoyed this conversation. Thank you so much for agreeing to do this. It was nice to talk with you. 

Barbara: Yeah, it’s nice to see you, and I hope I get to meet you in person and the not too distant future. 

John: Yeah, well we never know it. 

Barbara: Well, I travel, and you just never know. 

John: Well, if you’re ever in Kansas City. 

Barbara: I have a friend there. She’s a regular AA. 

John: Yes, absolutely. Cool. 

Barbara: So, I don’t know, she lives like outside not right in Kansas City, but she is like outside that she’s in that area, so just never know. 

John: And unless something strange happens I will be in Washington, DC in 2020 for that convention. I’m on the Board of Directors, I think I have to be there. They can’t really force me though. 

Barbara: And that’s in the fall of 2020, isn’t it? 

John: Right, right, I think it’s in October and November. 

Barbara: And I do, I do have one more thing that I heard many years ago. That reality is a power greater than us. 

John: That’s for sure. 

Barbara: And, believers may believe in a divinity, but I have to do the same amount of work that they do. I have to, it’s not what I believe it’s what I do, it is the practice. 

John: And that’s another episode of AA Beyond Belief. Thank you so much for listening. 

John: Hey, if you’d like to help out our site and podcast, there’s a couple of things you can do. First of all, go over to iTunes and leave us a review. Hopefully a favorable one.  You can also help out financially with either a recurring or one-time contribution you can do this by setting up small recurring donations, at our Patreon page, which you can find at patreon.com/aabeyondbelief, or through PayPal at paypal.me/aabeyondbelief. And you can always visit our site, aabeyondbelief.org and click on the donate button.

John: Thanks again for listening, we’ll be back again real soon with another episode of AA Beyond Belief, the podcast. 


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PJ
PJ

Thanks for a very thoughtful discussion John and Barbara. I particularly loved the referencing to the AA literature, finding the parts that are inclusive of and relevant to those who seek a secular sobriety and then incorporating this experience into present day sobriety. I have tried whenever possible to follow Jim Burwell’s “…stopped arguing…” lead which give more peace of mind, I think. Similarly, I too have experienced a similar life path of Catholicism, active alcoholism, theistic AA sobriety leading to secular sobriety. The AA ‘god language’ also drove me to seek a sobriety that made sense and worked. As… Read more »

John S

Thanks for listening, PJ. I haven’t been to a theistic AA meeting in a long time. It’s very difficult for me to tolerate them, but not so much because of how I am treated. I don’t know to be honest what it is to be honest. I think that maybe having had the experience of fitting in and not fitting in and feeling the difference is what keeps me away from the theistic meetings. I don’t feel that I fit in. It starts when they open the meeting by reading “How It Works” and then when they close with the… Read more »

Peter T
Peter T

Another great story, wonderful share, and top quality podcast. Thanks to Barbara and John for their service! Note, the 11th step prayer was not written by St. Francis. It did not appear in print until 1912 (anonymously), 700 years after St. F died. Interestingly he is also not explicitly named as the author in the 1952 “12 & 12” book, only inferred. No disrespect intended, but this is just one of those things that everyone takes for granted, understandably. https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Prayer_of_Saint_Francis Anyway, I agree that it makes no sense to even talk about “Secular AA leaving AA.” That is simply not… Read more »

John S

Thanks for listening, Peter. I never knew that about the St. Francis Prayer. It just goes to show not to take anything on faith, so to speak. The truth it seems is inevitably more interesting than the myth.