Episode 152: Jaren C.

Jaren recently completed an ultra marathon, a 100 mile trek, and while running his thoughts took him back to when he was twenty-five years old and  went to his first AA meeting. The people in the room gave him hope because he could relate with them and they to him. At that first meeting, a man made him a promise that if he could stay sober one day at a time, he would have a wonderful life and do things he never thought possible. This promise continues to be realized in Jaren’s life.  

Transcript

00:00 John: This is AA Beyond Belief, a podcast for, by and about people who have found a secular path to recovery in Alcoholics Anonymous.

[music]

00:26 John: Hello, today I am with Jaren C. Jaren I believe is from Wisconsin and he wrote a really nice article that he submitted to AA Beyond Belief a while ago. And I’m sorry I never posted it, but I will. And he wrote in there about a run that he had done that day or around that time. He ran 100 miles. And he wrote about what he thinks when he runs. And oh, it was just a really nice short little piece and we’re going to post it someday. But anyway, I thought I would really like to have this guy on the podcast. So here he is today. Hey Jaren, how are you doing? 

01:00 Jaren: Hey John, thanks for having me on. I really enjoy your show.

01:02 John: Well, thank you, thank you very much. I enjoy doing this as well. It’s one of those things I never imagined that I would do, and now I can’t imagine not doing it. So you know how that is. So what I’d like to do Jaren if you could start by just introducing yourself through your story and we’ll just let that evolve into a conversation. Can you kind of give us a background about you know what got you into recovery, to begin with? 

01:26 Jaren: Sure, so I grew up in a suburb of Madison and I would say I had just a normal middle-class upbringing. My parents are still married. I never felt out of place, I never saw my parents intoxicated, they weren’t bar-goers. My dad would have a couple of beers in the garage. It was never like, I just didn’t see alcoholism or experienced it. As far as a religion, I would say my parents got me confirmed, I was baptized, but they just didn’t go to church very often. I think my mom would pop us in on Christmas. It was more of a social community type thing, but I think if you were to ask my parents and they give you an honest answer I don’t think they… They have some doubts. But I do remember, we were going… I was going to Sunday school as a part of the confirmation process and they kind of continued with that. And one time we had a speaker talking to us about marriage, family, whatever it was and somebody had brought up homosexuality. And the guy said… And this my mom just happened to be in the room, and he had said something to the skin of, “If God wanted homosexuals in the world he would have made Adam and Steve.”

02:52 Jaren: So, and then… So right after that, my mom to her credit took us out and we really haven’t been back since. But as far as the drinking was concerned, I kind of had smoked pot and that really just wasn’t my thing. I don’t know why I just… I could take it or leave it. But I remember one time my dad had a… I don’t know it was kind of a work party at our house and as I said, he doesn’t drink all that much. So he had a keg in the basement that was barely gone and I had a couple of buddies over that night, and I was probably 14. And we would sneak… After my parents had gone to bed, we would sneak to that keg and just fill up our little cups. And we’d go back to my room and we’d drink them. And I just remember not so much being super intoxicated, but I remember just feeling like this is an amazing feeling and I want more of it. And the next day I didn’t feel well. And you think most people that had their first drunk were like, “Oh I’m never going to do that again.” For me, it was like it became an obsession. I could not sit still in class. I was thinking, “Oh man, I can’t wait till Saturday. How are we going to get beer? Let’s make a plan to get a beer.” And it was like, it was constantly on my mind and I always wanted to drink from that moment on. And it just… It really took over… It took me really fast. Before I started drinking, I got pretty good grades, I was a pretty popular kid in my class, I would say.

04:35 Jaren: Graduated high school, I was going to a community college and I had my own apartment and I would just drink by myself. It was weird before my friends would even pick me up to go to a house party or a bar I was already intoxicated, and then by the time I would get to those house parties or the bar or whatever it was, I was basically in a blackout. So by the time I was 18, 19, I was just making a complete spectacle of myself. Wake up humiliated, totally embarrassed and then to make myself feel better, I’d want to get drunk again to forget about that. So that just became the cyclical cycle of just drinking non-stop. And I would say by the time I was in my early 20s, I was drinking pretty much every waking moment. I got my first DUI, I blew a 0.41. So I was five times the legal limit. And that’s where it took me. I was a low bottom drunk and it got to the point… I heard in the rooms a lot where we drank around people that made us feel like we weren’t drunks. And I never really… I couldn’t find anybody that drank as I did. I was just gangbusters with the drinking. And so it was bad.

06:08 Jaren: So, fortunately, when I was 25, I had pretty much lost everything. I had tried treatments and stuff and it just, it didn’t work, but I was doing it for the wrong reasons, for my parents, for some job that I had just lost again. I think I had the record for most call-ins. It was just, it was a complete mess. And I was sick, I was physically dependent on alcohol. And I think that’s hard for a lot of people to understand was, if I wasn’t drinking, I couldn’t function. And that’s a really sad place to be. And then once I would sober up, maybe in detox or whatever it was, I would promise myself, “I am not going to drink ever again. I cannot do this. I’m done.” And then as soon as I got out of detox, I was back drinking again. And that was that obsession. And I just, it just had such its claws in me and it was just, I was miserable and I didn’t know what to do.

07:09 John: So what happened finally that got you to ask for help, get to AA, or start your sobriety? 

07:17 Jaren: Yeah, so it was a combination of things. I was living with a girl and she gave me the boot, and basically, my parents basically didn’t want to have anything to do with me anymore. I was just constantly letting them down. Family members were just… Friends were embarrassed to go out with me. It was, I was dying of alcoholism and I was dying of loneliness. It was just… I would sit in my apartment by myself just hoping that my phone would ring so that there could be some, so I could just talk to somebody. And there was nobody. I remember through various mandatory court things for my two drunk drivings, I would… They made me go to AA once in a while. And I didn’t get much out of it, but I knew I had to do something.

08:13 John: So what was your impression of AA the few times that you had to go back then? 

08:18 Jaren: I was going to a couple of small-town church basement meetings, and they were… There were only three, or four, or five people there, like Big Book meeting. And it was kind of like, I was forced to go there, so I just kind of wanted to do my hour and leave. Yeah. So I didn’t get a whole lot out of it. I remember there was one guy, though, that he was really persistent in getting my number, and I gave it to him. And he would, to his credit, he called a lot.

08:51 Jaren: But I just, I wasn’t ready. But when I was ready, I remember picking up the telephone book, because I got sober in 2007. I picked up the telephone book and I was kind of looking for a treatment center, but it was a Sunday. So I was like, well, I called the AA hotline to see what they could do to help me. I just wanted to talk to an operator, just somebody to tell how bad my life was at that moment. And they switched me over to a guy and he said, “Yeah, where are you?” And I gave him my address, and he’s like, “Well, I’ll come to pick you up.” And I’m like, “Okay, why?” He’s like, “Well, we’re going to go to a meeting.” And I’m like, “Oh. Oh, okay.” And then I was still very much at the tail end of DTs, I didn’t feel well, I was kind of like, “Oh man, I don’t know if I should be leaving, but I was like, “Well, this guy is coming from wherever maybe I’ll just check it out. So, he drove, he picked me up. And it turns out he was a retired police officer.

10:01 Jaren: So he let me sit in the passenger seat of his car and I remember thinking, “Wow, this is the first time I’ve ever sat up front with a police officer at any time getting a ride.” He took me to a meeting and we walked down the stairs. And if there was just nothing but smoke, my eyes burned going into this place. But we had a first-step meeting, it was a traditional meeting, and people told me about their stories. And there was a comfort knowing that there were people like me that drank like me. And there were people that did things. One thing I always liked about AA was like, it’s unfortunate for them, but there’s always somebody that did something worse than you did. Do you know what I mean? So it kind of made me feel better about myself in that if this guy can live with the shame and guilt that he’s gone through, so can I. And I left that meeting with hope. And the guy took me to another meeting and I just, it stuck. It resonated with me at that time, for me.

11:21 Jaren: And then I got a Big Book, I had to do a weekend in jail for the DUI that I got. And he gave me a Big Book and I checked myself in. And I remember reading the Big Book and not necessarily… I was kind of like, “Well, whatever,” but these guys made it sound like it was this piece of literature that would just change my life. And I didn’t ever feel that immediately, but the one thing that really got me through that weekend being incarcerated were the stories in the back. And I don’t ever hear many people talk about those. I always really liked those stories, because I just read them over and over and over again. And I was like, “Well, this is very inspiring.” And, yeah, I kept going pretty religiously, no pun intended, for five years. And, yeah.

12:11 John: We do have a lot in common. Obviously, I also started out at 25, had my last drink, had a history of DWIs, I was also, during the worst of my drinking, very isolated from other people. People looked at me, I felt like they were disgusted with me. I’ll never forget one time a friend of mine came to pick me up from jail, and this is someone I used to drink with. And he was just so freaking disgusted with me. He even said I smelled bad like I smelled… Do you know how you smell when you come out of jail? 

[chuckle]

12:11 Jaren: Yup, I gotcha.

12:11 John: You smell like piss and everything.

[laughter]

12:11 John: That’s life, it was awful. And so, yeah, and I had a very similar story. Then I lost my job because of my drinking and everything that I had. And what I find kind of interesting, and maybe you feel this way, too, is in a way, I’m fortunate, because I didn’t really have a lot to begin with, [chuckle] so it wasn’t that hard to lose everything that I had, [chuckle] really, but it was still devastating enough, because like you, I just realized that… I think this is from what you wrote in your story that you submitted to AA Beyond Belief, it’s that I realized that my future looked like jail and prison.

13:33 Jaren: Yeah. That’s it. I knew if I continued to drink, I was either going to die or go to prison because I could not stop drinking and driving just because I needed to get to the liquor store or wherever it was. And for some reason, now I live in the same city, and I take the bus and I’m sober. I don’t understand why that never crossed my mind when I was drinking or walking… Or ride a bike, it’s…

14:02 John: I think what it is is that when I drank, I could not use the rational part of my mind. It’s like that just went out the window. I could not say, “Oh, I got a DUI last time I did this, I better not do it this time.” That just didn’t come into my mind. Once the alcohol was in my mind, it took over. And a lot of times I was blacked out too when I was driving. So I’m not trying to make an excuse for what I was doing, but I really… That’s what terrified me after that third DUI is I realized, “God, I can’t freaking stop this.”

14:44 Jaren: Yeah, it’s sad. It’s a shame.

14:47 John: Yeah, it is frightening. And one thing that was a little bit different with me is they didn’t push the big book on me so much early on. And that didn’t happen until a few years later, but in fact, no one even talked about it. And I heard that they had this book, and I was really excited about getting my hands on this book. And I went to the library and I actually found it. And I remember the first time I read it, I think I just realized how old it was and I discarded it and I started going to other books. But then finally, I did get the book, and I was drawn to… I think the first thing I went to was, There Is A Solution. [laughter] It was the first chapter I went through… I wanted to get right to that part. And the one thing that I related to is they were talking about coming to the great jumping-off point or something like that where you just can’t imagine life with alcohol or without it. The great jumping-off place, something like that. And I definitely could relate to that. So there were things in that book I could relate to for sure. But I had a pretty good experience, I think, with my early AA meetings. And so, you, how’s your experience been since getting into the program and how have you been coping with it as I assume a non-believer? 

16:11 Jaren: So, when I came in, one of the first meetings, so I went back to that initial small church basement meeting I was talking about earlier where that I was kind of court-mandated to go to it. And it had gotten bigger in the time that I was drinking and came back to it. So it was maybe 20, 25 guys at this point, and there were some real thumpers in there. And there was that alpha, there was a couple of those guru guys, you know what I mean, that everybody just kind of, they seemed to have about eight sponsees, and they’re just totally binary thinking. It’s black and white. You’re going to drink if you do X, Y, Z. You’re not going to drink if you do this. And it was pretty rigid. And I remember there was one guy, and this is for me early on in my sobriety, he said, he was, “Is anybody having any anniversaries?”

17:09 Jaren: And he goes, “25 years ago, God picked me to be sober. And I can’t take any credit for that, it was all his doing.” And then everybody gave him his round of applause, which he was due. 25 years is an accomplishment. I was like, “Wow, that’s amazing.” And then it was like, “Hey, is anybody back after a relapse?” And this kid embarrassingly raises his hand and they proceeded, these gurus to tell him everything he was doing wrong, and blah, blah, blah, blah. And it got to me, because we do it in Madison where you kind of go around the table, it’s not popcorn style. So when it got to me, I just said, “I guess I’m kind of confused. Why would God make him sober and not him?”

17:58 John: You said that at the meeting? 

18:00 Jaren: Yeah, it doesn’t make any sense to me. Why would God make me an alcoholic just to get me sober? 

[laughter]

18:05 Jaren: because I firmly believe I was born with my wires crossed somewhere with the drinking. From the moment I did it, it just felt different for me, then I think it does other people. So I was like, “Why am I born an alcoholic for God to just make me sober?” And then I just don’t understand why he would choose this man to get sober, as opposed to the millions of other people? And they just lambasted me. I mean, they went, “You’re never going to get sober if you don’t have a spiritual experience. You’re never going to… ” And then can you imagine being 25-years-old, this community of AA is all you have, and you just want to fit in. You just want to be a part of it.

18:52 John: Yeah. That was me. Yeah.

18:53 Jaren: Yup. And so I just, they said, “You fake it ’til you make it.” And I said, “Okay, I’m faking it ’til I make it.” And I would say all the stuff in meetings, and I wanted those head nods from these guys. I wanted the Grand Puba over there to think that I am this AA guy. And I would stay, and I would pray, and I would… But deep down, I didn’t feel that. And then I would go, and the worst part for me is I spoke a lot in that first couple of years. And I would get up there in front of these people, and say, “By the grace of God, I’m sober.” And I felt like a phony. And I just… From that moment… I would hear people, I never thought that God had anything to do with my sobriety. For me, my higher power is a reality. I heard a lady say that in one of your… Like I know that if I drink I am going to get in trouble. I know when I drink my life is worse. I know that. That’s my sobriety, and for me spirituality is… Or a spiritual experience when you hear a song or you go to a movie or you run into a friend you’d been thinking about and then that hair on the back of your neck stands up there and you get excited. And for me, those are spiritual experiences. I don’t need to have light coming in through my window, man. Like those things that they talk about that, I don’t know, I just never felt it. And I felt like an outcast not so much because I would just lie and embellish basically.

20:31 John: So when you were doing that, see I did the same thing when I was doing that and for me, it went on for way longer than it really should have. But I was doing that I think almost at a subconscious level. And looking back on the experience now, I can see how it happened. Okay, because like you, I came in there, I was totally alone, nobody wanted anything to do with me, AA was all I had. It was the only hope I had. And I thought the God stuff was weird, but I kind of put it out of my mind. And I remember early on just kind of justifying it to myself. I was saying, “Okay.” And I was just speaking to myself, thinking to myself, “Okay, there’s gotta be some psychological benefit to all this stuff.” And so I was just going to… I was just going to go along with the flow. And next thing you know, I kind of forgot about how I was rationalizing that and I just started doing all the crap and saying all the stuff that I heard, getting the approval of the other people in the group. Did that… I did that for a long time, but then what happened with me is, like I said, I did not realize that I was doing that, that I was conforming in that way. Did you realize it intentionally that you were doing it or is it just something that you kind of fell into and now you look at it in hindsight? 

21:46 Jaren: Yeah, I think that fake it ’til you make it phrase just kept going through my head. And then there was a lady… I had a good friend and he was more vocal about his non-belief. And I would see just the shit that this guy would take and I’m like, “Wow, I don’t want any part of that.” And he was more of like a Far East, Buddhist, that kind of stuff. And you know they say Higher Power of your own understanding and group of drunks or it can be the doorknob or whatever it is but when it gets to brass tacks, we know what a lot of these people are talking about, and he just felt out of place and he just stopped going and I didn’t want to be that. I still wanted the community, I still wanted to be in touch and I still like to go into meetings. And I think AA became my religion, so to speak. Like I liked… Yeah, I liked… And I got caught up in the gossip. I thought if I was going to miss a meeting, “Oh boy, I wouldn’t know what was going on.” And so it was like my bar, I had to go there at 8 o’clock every night to go see so and so or whatever, and quite frankly, I needed that because I had nowhere else to go.

23:01 John: Yeah, and I specifically said that’s kind of good because it gives you that socialization, other people that you’re in contact with who are supporting you, people who have gone through similar problems. A lot of that is really good stuff to do that.

23:14 Jaren: Plus I could see the people coming back. I thought that was super important. I would see Josh Mo, he was there for a couple of weeks, seemed like he was getting his life back together, then he’s gone. Then he comes back a month later and he’s got another DUI or lost that job. And I was like, “Oh okay, that’s why I keep coming here.” And I needed those, so I thought that was really important. Plus you could start giving back a little bit and… But for me, things kind of… So we got married, my wife and I obviously, and we had a child on the way and I switched to second shift. So once the child was born, I was watching the infant all day then I was going to work. So for me, I wasn’t going to bring a small child to an AA meeting and plus all my favorite AA meetings were at night. So things really kind of for me and the program just naturally… I got all those things that the promises told me I would have. And so I just kind of stopped going definitely as much as I used to, but I was still trying to make it like once a week. And then eventually got to the running was amping up and I was training and then my wife and I didn’t see her ’til the weekends. And it’s something you had to give and then…

24:42 John: How did you get into running anyway, by the way? 

24:44 Jaren: I was smoking when I first got sober. And then once my wife was pregnant, she said, “I don’t want this kid around cigarette smoke.” And I was like, “That makes a lot of sense to me.” So I said, “I’m done.” When I quit smoking, and then I gained maybe 30 pounds because I just started eating way more. And that’s kind of where the running took off. And we’re alcoholics things progress pretty rapidly. So I went from doing 5Ks to half marathons to marathons to really long distance stuff. And it’s been a… Something I really enjoyed and I think it definitely helps me stay sober, that’s for sure.

25:30 John: I run on and off. Mostly off it seems lately, but I did the same thing. I quit smoking after 10 years of sobriety and so I’m in my 30s and I started running. It’s kind of weird, I guess, I don’t know how I got into it. I started just, I started exercising and then I got into running, but anyway, I did this race, it was like a 5K, and I just remember feeling like so amazing, afterward, the adrenaline or whatever it was, and I was kind of hooked on that for a while and it was really a good thing for me and I was progressing in my running and really enjoying it, and I loved it when I got into that state where it seemed like I wasn’t struggling with the run and my body just kind of naturally took over. And when people talk about meditation, I would see that as kind of my meditation at that time because I would just go into that zone where I’m just totally relaxed. I would be thinking about things. I might even solve problems while I’m running. So yeah.

26:41 Jaren: Definitely I have the same experience. A lot of the people that I see wear headphones and I don’t… I just, I focus on my breathing and I just hammer it. And then, I think my past doesn’t consume me by anything, but every once in awhile, I’ll pass an old bar or a homeless guy or whatever it is and then I just kind of like, what a better life I have now. It’s amazing when they told me when I first came in there, this guy came up to me after a meeting, and he said, If you just stay sober one day at a time, I promise you’ll have a wonderful life. And that guy was… I’ve done things I’ve never thought I’d be able to do and it’s because I stay sober.

27:34 John: Yeah, no same here. And one of the things that kind of motivated me early on, because it took me a while before I started seeing any improvement in my life. It took me a while to kind of build up to have jobs that would pay decently and all this kind of stuff. So I was kind of struggling in a lot of different ways, but one thing that motivated me is I always said to myself, “you know what? At least I’m not adding to my problems, I’m getting myself out of them and hopefully going forward, things are going to be okay. The drinking was just so crazy, that almost anything would be better. I mean it was the putting me in jail was the final straw, I guess, that for me.

28:22 Jaren: Yeah, that’s about it.

28:24 John: As long as people aren’t putting me in jail, I’m okay.

28:27 Jaren: You can only go one direction. Yeah, right? 

28:29 John: Yeah, yeah.

28:32 Jaren: But you were saying, I think I heard one of your stories that your meetings kind of tailed off when you went back to school. I did the same thing. I was doing school, I had an infant and then when I would go back to meetings and I would see a lot of these guys that were in the same spot in their life that they were 10 years ago when I would see them. It’s like they hadn’t really progressed at all, they were still sober, but as far as people… And that’s my opinion, maybe I shouldn’t take their inventory, but I know for me that I wanted to be a better person, I wanted to experience things I wanted to travel. I wanted to think you said those runs were always fun, and exciting, and motivated me, and I wanted my degree and I wanted to be a good dad. And, sometimes I…

29:21 John: So you were in a whole other phase of your recovery with that. I think that sobriety is all about. It’s easy to hide in a meeting, but you kind of got out there in the world, you went to school, you started meeting other people, you were starting a family. I think that’s the part of getting sober that I wouldn’t have wanted to miss, I could have very easily just spent all my time in those AA meetings, but I think that that period of time when I was not going to as many meetings, but I was going to school and I was reading and I was learning and I was meeting other people, that was just as important to my recovery as anything else and, like you, I’d come back to meetings, and what changed with me is that in school, I was thinking critically, they really taught me to think critically, which was probably the best thing I got from my education when I went back, and I started applying that type of thinking to what I was hearing at meetings and that started leading me, down the road to where I’m at today.

30:23 Jaren: Yeah. And I think school was… There was more critical thinking and it wasn’t… It made my atheism or my non-belief, I guess, kind of more intense. You would read literature and you studied question things even more. And then I would go back to meetings and it was like, it got to the point where I just if the topic was the second step or God, anything I would just pass and I kind of felt like I wasted an hour of my day, which I wasn’t going very much anyways, and yeah.

31:06 John: Were you always kind of out as an atheist, when you were at these meetings? 

31:09 Jaren: No. So early on, and this is before the internet was really booming, I think before AA beyond Belief. I didn’t know anything about secular meetings, whatever. I know that there were two staunch atheists, that would come to a traditional meeting that I would frequent, and I remember that they took a lot from the people and I remember, like after the meetings and you could hear the people talking about those two atheists like I can’t believe they said that, You know what I mean? And I was like, “Oh man, I don’t want to be any part of that.” So yeah, I was pretty closeted, but my wife, she’s an atheist, and she just doesn’t care one way or the other.

32:00 John: That’s how my wife is.

32:00 Jaren: You know what I mean? Yeah, she’s just kind of like, “Well, it’s their deal.” And I feel like that to some extent, but there’s the level of frustration when it’s so in your face. And a lot of these guys were just so hypocritical. There was this major… This group was a major, “Big book thumping, God is the only way you need to have a spiritual experience people,” and they were just… And they’d have the parties, and all the young people would go there and it was like, and I remember one person said, “Why do you keep 13 stepping these young newcomers?” And he’s like, “Well, because the big book doesn’t say anything about not having sex with a newcomer.”

32:46 John: Oh you’re kidding me. Shit, goddammit.

32:49 Jaren: Yeah, and I’m just like, “Oh man.”

32:53 John: Unbelievable. I see, of course I know that that kind of crap goes on. I’ve never seen it personally. I guess I’ve seen that only once and it was fairly recently, at my existing group. There was a guy that was coming to meetings, and he wasn’t physically sexually doing anything, but he was doing what in the workplace would definitely be sexual harassment. And I had a talk with him and I just said, “You’re not going to talk to any of the women here.” I just told him that. I said, “It’s unacceptable what you’ve done.” And quite frankly, I chased him away and I feel okay about that because what he was doing was making people… It’s like… It’s not that he’s just making these women feel uncomfortable, he’s endangering their damn life because they’re not going to go to the meetings. It’s like the worst thing you can do, so you don’t even have to sexually take advantage of a person, it’s just that kind of thing, that demeaning, controlling stuff is just, it doesn’t belong in AA at all. And I think that when you see it you gotta really nip in the bud. So anyway, so it was happening, you saw it.

34:11 Jaren: Yeah, and then you just see the amount of mental illness that’s around there and people that are in and out. And I’ve met some of the greatest people I’ve ever met in AA, but I’ve also met some of the biggest weirdos, and there are some times where I just haven’t felt safe in the clubhouse. And then my wife’s going to meetings, and I was… So, you pick and choose I guess, that’s our society anyways.

34:36 John: Yeah, yeah, that’s too bad. That certainly is. But to be fair to AA, I think that any other organization would probably have similar problems where you have people that from the public gathering together from all walks of life and people that are vulnerable. It’s just going to happen, it happens in churches, it happens all over. But that doesn’t excuse it but it’s just that it’s important to be hyper-aware that it happens and to be able to jump on it when it does to let people know that, “Oh no, that’s not okay.” What that guy said about the Big Book not saying that that’s just crazy. The big book has just gotten so weird, it’s gotten more bizarre all the time about how people think about it.

35:27 Jaren: Yeah, I mean, it’s never really resonated with me, like it does some of these guys, they take it as gospel, and if you don’t follow it…

35:34 John: They do, more than I think I’ve ever seen them before. I guess I kind of… Okay, when in the ’90s when I was kind of going through the big book, yeah, we were studying it, we were underlying it, we were reading it and all this kind of stuff and people thought it was great, but it wasn’t like worshipped like it is so many places now. It seems like it’s actual people… That’s what drove me away from my old homegroup, people started using that damn book like it was a law book like it was something that people would use it to prove me wrong.

36:14 Jaren: Yeah. Well, there was a guy, and he was one of these guru guys, man, he had his minions and they would get their sponsees, he had the whole thing set up and he was getting guys sober, kudos to him, he was doing the thing, but he was staunch and he would say it in meetings that you should not be taking your prescription medications, you should not be taking your antidepressants because that’s mind-altering. And he would tell these people that. And it was dangerous and the guy was a landscaper. And I’m talking to these guys, I’m like, “You’re taking medical advice from a guy that cuts grass for a living. Why are you doing that? Do not do that.” It’s crazy.

37:00 John: Well mind-altering going to AA meetings is mind-altering, running is mind-altering, drinking coffee is mind-altering, going to school is mind-altering. So anyway, yeah, but yeah, that’s a shame, too. But anyway, so how did you get involved, I’m assuming, are you going to a secular meeting now? They have one in Madison, right? 

37:24 Jaren: Yeah, they have, they’re very new. There are four of them. And with my schedule, it’s hard to make a lot of them, but I bounce in and out. I wouldn’t say I have a homegroup, but when I do show up… So I had the day off, and it was a Monday, and I was like, “I should really get to a meeting,” and it said, agnostic on the website, MAYCO for Madison, and I was like, “Oh, wow, that sounds kind of cool.” So I went and checked it out and it was refreshing. I felt for the first time in a long time, in a meeting, that I could speak up about my true thoughts without hearing…

[vocalization]

38:09 Jaren: Those types of things or the eye rolls, or whatever.

38:14 John: Do they read like at other meetings in Madison I’m assuming as they do in Kansas City anyway? Do they read how it works before the meetings start? Not at the secular meetings, but at the other meetings.

38:24 Jaren: Yeah, how it works, at the beginning and then we hold hands and do the Lord’s Prayer after every meeting. I actually… So I was the host of a meeting or chairperson of a meeting that Clancy was speaking at. It was like a conference thing. I had dinner with the guy. That’s how involved I was, and then he spoke and then I said thank everybody for coming and he was yelling at me from the podium. He was like we need to do the Lord’s prayer, we need to do the Lord’s Prayer. He was really upset.

38:56 John: Clancy was? 

38:57 Jaren: Yeah.

39:00 John: It’s crazy. But that whole thing about how it works. Okay, so the first time I went to an agnostic meeting. They actually had one in Lawrence, Kansas, which is close to where I live. I didn’t even know it was there, I was there for two years. So I went to that meeting and they did not open with any kind of prayer, they didn’t read how it works and they didn’t close with a prayer. And that made it so damn nice, it’s like it took this horrible weight off of the meeting, this oppression. I felt like it was oppressive after a while, especially after I realized I was an atheist. Hearing somebody read how it works, that there is one who has all power, that one is God, may you find him now. That just was so oppressive to me, it was just awful, so yeah, when you experience not having that, it’s a huge difference.

39:52 Jaren: You feel like you’re doing something wrong if you don’t experience that. And yeah, people would tell me that they would get on their knees and they would pray, and then when they’ve sincerely surrendered, they never wanted to drink again. And I always thought that sounds so easy. I want whatever these guys are doing. And for me, it took work. It was a day at a time.

40:18 John: Yeah, so how did you learn about all this stuff? Did you just get online and search for us? Is that how you found us? 

40:26 Jaren: Yeah, yeah. I searched and then I just… I went and I got the literature and then I started going to the AA Beyond Belief and reading this stuff and I was like, “Wow.” It was kind of like going to your first meeting, and meeting people that drank as you did, and then it’s like, “Okay, these people drink like I did and they think the way.” To my surprise too, when I went to the agnostic meeting, I thought that they were going to bash God or the other tradition. And it wasn’t like that at all. It was just a meeting without the God stuff.

41:02 John: That’s cool.

41:02 Jaren: Yeah, and it was…

41:04 John: That’s how most of ours are, too. We’ve done some bashing from time to time but for the very most part, it’s just a regular AA meeting, just like any other, just no praying and all that.

41:15 Jaren: Yeah, and I kind of feel like maybe I’ve bashed traditional meetings more than I should in this podcast, but…

41:19 John: That’s alright.

41:20 Jaren: Because they have… It really did save my life, going there and getting sober. I don’t think I would have gotten sober without it. But as you progress as a person, and I’ll still go to traditional meetings and see people, but I think the agnostic meetings are definitely more my route going forward.

41:42 John: And I don’t think that we’re bashing it. I think it’s just part of our experience. For me, I love, I still love AA, but it was so important to me, it was a huge part of my life. And I was… These guys were my friends for 25 years, and all of a sudden, all of a sudden, I would talk differently and they didn’t accept me anymore, after 25 years.

42:09 Jaren: Yes, yeah.

42:09 John: It broke my heart, and they didn’t know it. And so, when I criticize AA, it’s really out of love. It’s to let people know, don’t you know what you did? You know what, I was at a meeting one time, I’m sorry, I’m going to go off a little bit. I was at a meeting one time, a traditional meeting at my old homegroup, and at the end, and this is after I came out as an atheist. In the end, they were doing the Lord’s Prayer. I stood there respectfully, but without reciting the prayer. One guy, staring at me, gave me the evil eye during that prayer, like looked at me like I was a criminal or something, I swear to God. And I wish I would have gone over and said something to him, but I didn’t. So anyway, yeah, I’m not bashing it, but I’m just saying that listen, this is what happened. And I react to it emotionally because it was like my family no longer accepting me because I went off and did something true to my own ideas and beliefs. And that’s how and what it was like, it was really painful.

43:13 John: But at the same time, I moved on away from that, so I don’t go to those meetings anymore. We started our secular meetings here in Kansas City, and now I have my own. I have people who I can relate to who will accept me and I accept them wherever they are in life. And I don’t care, they could become religious, I’m fine with it, whatever, just totally fine with it, but yeah, it’s a different thing. So I’m still in AA, but any criticism that I give of it is from my own personal experience, and it comes from a lot of pain.

43:45 Jaren: Yeah, I was pretty hurt at one time in the program, I know… When I got sober and I could see where they were coming from. You have to change your playmates and your playgrounds are what they told me. So a lot of those guys that I drank with, they were like, “Oh well, you need to make new friends, sober friends.” But John, a lot of those guys that I drank with, they drink normally. I was the one that was out of control. A lot of those guys I drank with, they’ve been my buddies since elementary school. So I remember when I first got sober, I was helping people move all the time, I was cutting their grass if they needed it. I was doing all these things that I thought was service work. And when we bought our house, I was like, “Oh wow, I just helped 25 people move in the last three years. I’m really going to… This is going to be a piece of cake.” And I called all those people and not one of them showed up.

44:47 Jaren: And then… But all those guys that I drank with’, they were there to give me a hand. And that meant a lot to me. And so it kind of made me realize that a lot of these people that I’ve met in AA are acquaintances, not true friends. I have a handful of good friends in AA, but a lot of these guys come and go in my life. And that’s just the way it is.

45:12 John: That’s very true. Joe C said something to me once, that you get a… I don’t know how he put it, kind of like a false sense of intimacy in AA, that you feel like you’re closer to these people than you really are because you’re going to these meetings and you’re sharing honestly with each other. And you do get along, you like each other, you feel like you’re friends. But when you’re not at the meeting, like when I stopped going to my home group, I never heard from anybody there ever, ever.

45:48 Jaren: God, no. So yeah.

45:53 John: So yeah. And probably the same thing will be true with my secular group, too, if I stopped going, I’m probably not going to be in touch with these guys.

46:02 Jaren: And you realize, my sobriety doesn’t really impact anybody other than my immediate family.

46:08 John: That’s right.

46:08 Jaren: Or my co-workers. And the same thing with those people I went to meetings with. If they’re drinking, that’s… Well, my life goes on. I wish them the best.

46:18 John: Yep, it’s all about AA for me is what I do so I can just live my normal life. But where the rubber hits the road is how I do at work, how I do with my wife and my family and take care of my responsibilities. That’s what sobriety has done for me. And AA is great, and I love going to the meetings and I love watching other people get better. What I get the most joy out of meetings now is watching people who are young like I was when I was starting, and watching them get their lives together. That, to me, I just feel like I’ve come full circle. It’s like, yeah, I don’t have to say anything to these people, all I have to do is just watch them and think, “Yeah, I like what I’m seeing here. This is nice.”

47:13 Jaren: And I think this, the podcast and the website is important because I think there’s a lot of people that are like us, that when they first come in, are scared to say anything because they don’t want to be kicked out, they don’t want the groans. And they’re fragile, we have thin skin. I was at a meeting the other day, a traditional meeting and my buddy was talking to me. This was before the meeting. We’re sitting there just chit-chatting and he goes, “Well what are you doing for meetings these days, Jaren?” And I was like, “Well, I’ve been checking out these secular meetings and they’re really good.” And he’s like, “Oh, I’d never heard of those. What’s it about?” And I was kind of just explaining it to him. And this guy next to me was just rolling his eyes and making faces. And he wasn’t even a part of the conversation. So of course, when the meeting starts, he has to go and pontificate for 15 minutes about how important God is in his life. And it’s like, “I don’t care what you believe or what you don’t believe. Why do you need to make me feel bad?” I just don’t understand that aspect of it.

48:16 John: Yep. So let’s wind things up on a positive note. [chuckle]

48:24 Jaren: Yeah.

48:24 John: So how are things today? How are you doing today? What do you enjoy doing? 

48:31 Jaren: I love going to live music, my running is really important, my kids, we’re always doing something. I travel quite a bit. I worked for American Airlines for a while, and so I could fly any… My family and I could fly anywhere. So I get to experience the world and just get out of my bubble and do all those things that I couldn’t do drinking. And that’s what sobriety has done for me.

49:02 John: Yeah, my wife and I are actually planning on doing some traveling. We want to actually this year… She’s recovering from back surgery right now and she wants to start traveling, and her goal is to go to England this year. So we’ll see, we’ll see how that works.

49:18 Jaren: We’re going to London in two months.

49:21 John: Oh awesome.

49:21 Jaren: So I’ll let you know…

49:21 John: You have to let me know how it is, yeah.

49:22 Jaren: I’ll let you know how it is.

49:22 John: Yeah, yeah. So I don’t know, but she loves England and she wants to go to some different places, travel around a little bit. I don’t know how long we’re going to spend there, but it will be nice.

[music]

49:38 John: And that’s another episode of AA Beyond Belief. Thank you so much for listening. If you would 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 that by setting up small recurring donations at our Patreon page 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. Thanks again for listening, we’ll be back again real soon with another episode of AA Beyond Belief, the podcast.


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