Angela B. provides an ICSAA update and talks about the One Big Tent Secular AA Conference to be held in Langley, British Columbia on May 16, 2020. Jamison M. joined in by phone to talk about starting a secular AA meeting in Lodi, New Jersey. It’s an interesting story that involves help from a person of faith. Today, the group is thriving and providing a safe and secular space for people to support one another in their desire to stay sober.
00:02 John: AA Beyond Belief is a podcast by, for, and about people who have found a secular path to sobriety in Alcoholics Anonymous.
00:28 John: Well today, we’re going to have a call-in guest. His name is Jamison M. He’s from New Jersey and he is going to speak with me and Angela about his experience with starting a secular AA meeting in his area. He told me briefly in his email that he had some challenges with it, and he thought it might make for an interesting conversation. So he’ll be calling us in about 15 minutes. And I thought until then, Angela and I could chat about a few things. I know that she recently sent out a newsletter for the secular aa.org organization, so maybe she could update us on what’s going on with all of that. Angela, how you doing?
01:11 Angela: I am good, thanks. So did you read the newsletter? [chuckle] I probably should have asked you that first.
01:18 John: I did. I read it and we’ll be posting it tomorrow on AA Beyond Belief, so.
01:24 Angela: Great, great. Yeah, we sent out a newsletter with what’s going on. The main thing that is on everyone’s mind I’m sure is the conference in October. So this is our I think we’re calling it our fourth biannual International Conference of Secular Alcoholics Anonymous, and it starts on October 30th, 2020. So it goes over Halloween and that weekend. And it’s in Washington, DC. Well, technically Bethesda but it’s right on top of the Metro, so we’re calling it DC ’cause it’s easier. This year they’ve decided to have a theme. I don’t think they actually had themes in the last few that I know of. I missed Austin, but I was in Santa Monica, and in Toronto. But this year they have a theme, the science of alcoholism and recovery. And so they are going to have a lot of speakers and take advantage of all of the experts that we have in that area because there’s the National Institute of Health and different places there, and so taking advantage of that. And then, of course, they’ll be panels and workshops and fun stuff like poetry through recovery and most likely yoga.
02:54 Angela: Yoga’s still pretty big, and [chuckle] those kinds of things. Also, I think different groups are trying to put on little time to get together. So the Sober She-Devils meeting, which is an online secular meeting, they’re going to try to get together and not only have a meeting but also plan some stuff so that the women can enjoy spending some time together in person since the meeting is online and a lot of the members are from all over the country and Shanghai and Australia and things like that. So it’s going to be an opportunity for a lot of that to happen, and I think that’s what most people look forward to is just getting together and being able to be with people, like-minded individuals, and stuff. And what else is going on there? I think the links and everything is on the Secular AA website and so you can go there. The rates for the hotel are super cheap. I think it’s like $129 a night right now, which is amazing for that area. I don’t even think I can get stuff that cheap near Seattle right now and I’m planning to head there. So yeah, so that’s what’s going on with that.
04:19 John: And Seattle is that what the Pacific Northwest Regional?
04:22 Angela: It’s actually in Langley, which is Langley, BC. And I believe it’s about an hour and a half, maybe two hours north. I haven’t double-checked lately. And it is going to be on May 15th, 2020. Yeah, so just coming up here a little bit. But they’re calling it the Pacific Northwest Regional Secular AA Conference. And the link to that is www.SOAAR.ca, so basically, soaar.ca. Yeah, and you can go there. Also, if you’re not anywhere near where you can remember that or write that down if you go to AA Agnostica they have a little article where the people who are putting it on, Ralph, I believe, wrote about why they’re doing it and their excitement about it and then that also links to their registration page.
05:25 John: It’s amazing what they’re doing. I’m just looking at their website. That is so much work, golly.
05:31 Angela: Yeah, yeah. It’s a lot of work and I also just like how they phrased things, how they framed it out of what their goal is. They’re very much community-oriented, and I like that. I think it’s a good approach, and so I’m excited to go to it. I wasn’t sure that I could handle another conference this year but I’m going to drive. Yeah, I’m going to drive up and I think a couple of members of my home group are as well, and that’ll be cool ’cause as a home group we haven’t traveled since Santa Monica, and so it’ll be nice to have a couple of my homies aboard for this one.
06:11 John: I think they’re calling this “One Big Tent”. They got a really nice conference center there. I was just kind of looking at it. The picture of it looks nice, anyway.
06:19 Angela: Yeah, yeah. I think Greg’s going to be there to talk more about the conference in DC. Roger’s going to be speaking and then Rey B who spoke at Toronto, who I’ve passed his speech on to a lot of people regarding recovery capital because I think it’s very pertinent at this time for us to be thinking about all the different things that go into our recovery. So…
06:48 John: This is Jamison calling us.
06:50 Angela: All right, sounds good.
06:51 John: Hey, Jamison, how are you doing?
06:54 Jamison: Hey John, I’m good, how are you?
06:56 John: I’m doing great. I’m just in here chatting with Angela, she was updating us a little bit about what’s going on with the conference for ICSA and also this new conference is going to be taking place in the Pacific Northwest, actually in British Columbia. So anyway, we were talking about that, waiting for you to join us.
07:17 Angela: Hi, Jamison.
07:17 Jamison: Hi, Angela.
07:21 John: You actually sound really good, Jamison, I have to say. I’m impressed.
07:24 Jamison: Oh well, thank you. I don’t think I could take any of the credit.
07:28 John: I’m impressed with my own technology. I swear to God, it’s like I invented it myself.
07:34 Jamison: Very cool. I’m glad that the quality is coming in clear.
07:37 John: Well, it was nice of you to write to us. You mentioned that you started a meeting in your community in New Jersey. And that maybe you might like to talk about that and some of the challenges that you faced doing that? Do you think that would be a good subject to talk about today?
07:53 Jamison: Absolutely, I’m happy to tell you how that started and the experience going through it, and where we’re at today.
08:00 John: Okay.
08:01 Jamison: Sure.
08:02 John: Well, let’s go for it. Maybe we should start with a little introduction of yourself and how you got into recovery, and how you learned about secularly formatted AA meetings, and then go into starting this group in New Jersey.
08:16 Jamison: Yeah, that sounds good. So I was born and raised in Englewood, New Jersey, in Bergen County, that’s about five-10 minutes from the George Washington Bridge in Manhattan. And I had my first issues with alcohol and drinking when I was about 22-23 years old. Prior to that, I was not drinking alcoholically, but I was still an addict, I was a food addict my whole life. And after getting weight loss surgery, which was successful, alcohol replaced that as my vice.
08:50 John: Oh wow, you have a lot in common with Angela.
08:51 Jamison: I told my story. It was a couple of times, by women from ages 25 to 45, and that was some serious identification.
09:04 John: Yeah.
09:06 Jamison: But, yeah. So, when I got that surgery and I started really just medicating with alcohol, I blacked out one-night drinking and driving. Unfortunately, is a large part of my story. But I woke up not remembering how I got home and there was a ton of damage to my car. It looked like I rode rail on a highway. And so in order to finish my college degree, I was going to undergrad, commuting. I told my parents I would admit myself to an intensive outpatient program. And I did that and I was the best student I could have been. I said everything I thought they wanted me to say, all song and dance, but one of the requirements to complete that program was to come to AA. And I did, and I wasn’t really ready but I was interested. Some things didn’t make sense, some stuff I did identify with, but I’d been an atheist since I was about 11 or 12 years old, and at this point, I was 23. And I really just butted heads with all of the God content in the literature and steps and some of the shares. And I did ask, I remember, I asked the council at that outpatient, “Is there any alternative that’s not religious in any way, or have any notion of a supernatural higher power that’s going to remove addiction from my brain?”. And [chuckle] he did do some research for me, and it was like three hours away in South Jersey, it wasn’t feasible.
10:45 Jamison: So long story short is, I white-knuckled on my own after I completed that program for about a year-and-a-half. And things got better because I wasn’t inviting chaos in my life, but I didn’t change. And sure enough, I didn’t pick up. And what happens when we pick up is it progressed very quickly, and I did pretty much pick up right where I left off with the drinking. And so after a year and a half of being dry, I was on a run for about two years and I had got a DUI in November of 2017, and it was the closest thing that I had that you could call that white light moment, but the illusion was smashed for me. I just knew that I could not drink like other people. I would never drink like other people again, and I needed help. And I reached out to the sponsor, I got the first time around when I was 23. Just help, I need help.
11:43 Jamison: And he had moved out of state but he put me in touch with my sponsor, he’s still my sponsor today. And I was pretty willing to do whatever was asked of me at the beginning. I was able to either, basically tune out the stuff that I found problematic that caused it, not in my stomach when people would say things like, “If you don’t have God, you won’t get sober”. Or even worse for me was the condescending, “Don’t worry, keep coming, you’ll find Him”. And I had a great sponsor who really helped me work two and three, that’s where I really stumbled a little bit, but he was patient with me. And things were getting better. And so I was raised in a Jewish home. I’m half Jewish, half Greek Orthodox, or Grewish. And I happen to become very friendly with a guy who had some sobriety time in some of the meetings I still attend. And he was leading a sober Bible study at his house. And I was genuinely curious to check it out. And I got a lot out of it, great conversations, really interesting stuff. And he referred to me as you know, the token Jew that attends the Bible study. [chuckle]
13:03 Jamison: And one day he asked me after one of those Bible studies, “I’ve been to that agnostic meeting with you over in Fort Lee and that meeting helped me a lot. I found that about 100 days into my sobriety, Tuesday nights at 8:00 in Fort Lee. And I felt like I needed that to breathe easier and to help me appreciate the nonsecular meetings”. And he said, “I went to you with those meetings. And I think they do a world of good”. And now mind you, my friend isn’t just sharing a Bible study, he was a Catholic priest and then he was high-up in the Mormon church out in Utah and he just has a very open mind and he told me…
13:49 John: Did he start out as a Mormon and then he became a Catholic priest?
13:53 Jamison: Other way around.
13:53 John: Oh, oh. Interesting. [chuckle]
13:55 Jamison: Yeah, very, very interesting story and guy who helped me a lot and he said, “You know, I went to that meeting, but it’s on the other side of the turnpike. And I was thinking we could use that here. Would you like to start an agnostic meeting”? And because at this time I had just over, I think a year and people-pleasing is something I continue to work on I said, “Yes, of course”, [chuckle] not knowing what I was saying yes to. But even though the motivation at first wasn’t necessarily the best, I’m super glad I did, just reflex reaction agree to it. So he was there helping me and he really took on finding a location. And we found a spot. It’s a meeting place. He attends I think two to three times a week. I was attending once a week. They had a time slot for us on a Sunday anywhere between, I think 4 ‘o clock and 5:30. And long story short. After the church met with the board and they approved us, we were going to be proceeding two back-to-back meetings on Sunday night. And we hit some unfortunate roadblocks. The gentleman that actually was presiding over both of those meetings, did a lot of nasty stuff. I mean, he tried to push us out of the space, basically arguing that his meeting has a contract that says, “They have the space for X amount of time”. And he also wrote some pretty nasty emails about my friend, the Reverend.
15:40 Jamison: And he sent that out to other AAs and it became really messy and nasty and political very quickly. And I was surprised. I really was and it was disheartening. But my friend, the Reverend basically did the right thing and he withdrew his bid from the location because he didn’t want to jeopardize the other meetings that meet in that location. And we found a spot not too far away, also on a Sunday in Lodi. And it was really scary going around and announcing that meeting that it was going to take place once we had our first start date set. I’m glad I put myself out there. I was encouraged by the Reverend, like when you go to meetings just announce we’re bringing a secular meeting. There was a lot of confusion, a lot of I think just ignorance and a lot of excitement. And I had some really amazing interactions with folks after meetings coming up to me like, beaming, grinning ear to ear, “Can’t wait”. Other people basically grilled me and accused me of not being sober because I didn’t follow “Bill W’s program ’cause I didn’t have Bill W’s higher power”.
16:57 John: Oh, I didn’t know that you were drunk if you weren’t on Bill W’s higher power. [chuckle]
17:01 Jamison: Oh, yeah. No, I…
17:03 Angela: Oh, shit. I better turn in my coin now.
17:06 Jamison: I knew that wasn’t the case and rage. And I’m not somebody who typically acts out on anger or feels it like that unless I really hit my limit. And it’s funny because there’s a lot of friends that I’ve made in the rooms who have traditional faith, who do practice religion. But they’re people that have helped me understand my own spirituality by listening to them and seeing how they make a distinction between their religious-based faith and spiritual fulfillment, spiritual growth, spirituality. And they were there consoling me or keeping me calm when the nasty things would be said. And they helped start that meeting. And what’s wonderful is it is the most fulfilling meeting I go to now. It’s huge. We started out… There was a lot of curiosity. There were probably 35 people at the first meeting and some of them got really pissed off when they heard people really venting about, “Not needing God” and… Or… Like it… And that we’re the people who cared.
18:20 John: Were the people getting mad, were they from other meetings and then they were shocked to hear that? Or were they just other agnostics that didn’t want to hear the complaining?
18:32 Jamison: That’s a great question. So no, the first week was really a lot of people who are curious. I don’t know what their intentions were or the motivation to show up. It could have been genuine support for the cause, curious or, “Let’s see what this is really all about”. I think and I could be reading into it, but I think some people were really trying to basically find the evidence that they needed to see, “I knew it, yeah. This isn’t an AA kind of thing”. But it absolutely is. It is. And the one fear I had going into it and I had help from a few of my friends who helped me take on this whole thing, to not allow the meetings discourse become the equivalent of Bible-thumpers on the non-faith or a more secular side of it, which did happen in the beginning. I think people needed to vent.
19:26 John: Oh, boy. Doesn’t it happen at every single group when it first starts? I hate it.
19:30 Angela: Yeah. People who need to vent…
19:31 Jamison: Like the first month, maybe a month and a half, there was a lot of that. And for me, this is about not drinking. And what the meeting ended up becoming… I love the format. We do read from One Big Tent, the Grapevine collection of atheist and agnostics. And reading some of the submissions. So that’s the first meeting of every month, and then we have an open discussion. In the middle of the month, the chair picks somebody to lead a discussion, so they get an extended share for about five to 10 minutes, and then we open it up to whatever topic. And then the last meeting in a month, and this was important to me as well as to my friend the Reverend, that I struggled with all the steps that referred to God or tried to mask that it’s still God with a capital H in Him. So we have a step meeting that lasted every month.
20:31 John: What do you use for your step meeting?
20:33 Jamison: Say it again.
20:34 John: What do you use any particular literature for your step meeting, or just is based on the discussion?
20:39 Jamison: So it’s mainly discussion-based. I would just pull up online the steps as they’re written and it’s a 12 in 12. Maybe I would glance at some of the chapter itself to refresh my memory, but very short, just like, “This is the step, this is what it means to me, or my experience with it. What’s your take?” Yeah. And what’s amazing is seeing a lot of newcomers come in and as a sigh of relief, it looks sometimes literally. And I’m glad that we got through that phase of, “Isn’t this exciting?” and “I can’t believe those other meetings, and this is my… ” All the kind of excitement blew over, and now what we’re left with is an amazing meeting with just elevated conversation.
21:30 John: Yeah, that sounds really familiar. Is that kind of familiar to what you experienced at Boise, Angela?
21:36 Angela: Yeah, yeah, quite a bit of it. We didn’t have any difficulty finding a location. We went with the Unitarians. I believe we had done some research and it sounded like a group in San Francisco.
21:54 Jamison: Hey, John, I can’t hear Angela.
21:55 John: Oh, you can’t hear Angela. Oh, that’s interesting.
21:57 Jamison: No.
21:58 John: Oh, okay, I don’t know why. Okay, okay, okay. Something will have to work out.
22:04 Angela: Can you hear me now? Is he not able to hear at all?
22:08 John: No. And it must be the way that… I bet you if I had him call in on the Bluetooth way, you would have heard him. I don’t know, that’s weird.
22:16 Angela: Okay.
22:17 John: Anyway, sorry about that. Yeah, she was just saying that they didn’t have a problem finding a location, but that they had that kind of similar things. I did too, our group did too, in the very beginning. Okay, what happened with us is we were… Actually, most of the people that came to our meeting at the very beginning had either gone to AA and didn’t like it, because they didn’t feel like they fit it, or they would just never been to AA and would never go if there weren’t a secular option. And so we, in the beginning, there wasn’t a lot of bashing or anything. But then after about a year, our group like really grew and what happened were some people from another group started coming to our meetings. And they were totally relieved that they had a secular option. But unfortunately what they would do is they would bash their old group a lot, they would complain about what they had experienced, and I guess they just needed to get it out of their system. So our meetings went to that period of time where we had a little bit of that. But then after a while, as you said, that went by the wayside and now we’re just left with a really nice meeting, where it’s like no one even thinks about. It’s any different than any other AA meeting.
23:37 Jamison: Right, right. And I think that’s so important because I owe everything I have today to AA. I really, I love it. I also think that is something that needs to change your dye as well, as the next set of suffering. The fact of the matter is that this current generation is the most secular ever to walk the Earth. And I don’t want to throw the baby out with the bathwater, but a lot of this literature which is dated, and I think unnecessarily, complicated at points. If you felt like I felt coming in of just, “I need help, tell me what I need to do.” Great, but I think that if it’s presented, I guess, is a little bit more of a secular manner, you don’t necessarily need to be as a desperate. All I know is that I’m really glad that these meetings are growing, the agnostic meetings, and getting recognized by inter-group was… It was emotional for me.
24:49 Jamison: I didn’t expect that. But when I went down to the area meeting at inter-group and presented just what the meeting’s about, I didn’t expect to feel the emotions that I was feeling, ’cause I do think about. And I could have been one of them. I’m fortunate that I wasn’t, but I think about the people that may be dipped their toe in the water, or like you were mentioning, just let their preconceived notions keep them away. And they didn’t get that chance to get sober, because they died. And if they’re dying because of other people forcing their higher power on them, or because the literature is really that much of a turn off for people, that’s just frustrating and it doesn’t have to be that way.
25:35 John: So tell me, the people that do come to your meeting, are they primarily people who have not been to a traditional AA meeting?
25:45 Jamison: No. In fact, the large majority are people who I see very much involved in non-secular, non-agnostic meetings.
25:54 John: Oh really? Interesting.
25:56 Jamison: Yeah, and we’ve grown to regular attendance of about 25 to 30 people. And one of the things that I think makes the fabric of that meeting so interesting and fulfilling is that it’s diverse. It’s diverse in age, it definitely skews younger. It’s the only meeting where women outnumber the men and we take the safety of every member very seriously. We read the safety card at the beginning, but we also have had group conscience where one member’s behavior was completely inappropriate. It was a man making women feel inappropriate. I think that’s another thing that it’s a very complicated and delicate and confusing situation that can occur in AA and has occurred, I think, since the start of AA.
26:46 John: How did you deal with it. Did your group deal with it in a meeting?
26:49 Jamison: We did. We did, yeah. So a couple of friends of mine, two women, basically just filled me in on what was going on, and I asked them if they want me to address it, and they did. And so I pulled the gentleman aside, and I said, “Look, this is what I’m hearing, and this is what the behavior is causing, and it is un-comfortability, it is turning people off when coming to the meeting.” And the first time this happened was about a year ago, and he said, “Thank you for telling me and pulling me to the side and letting me know and okay.” And then sure enough, like a month or two later, it started again. And just recently, we had to have a group conscience where we address the behavior in open forum with this guy in attendance, and I really didn’t know what to say, so I just opened the group conscience with that.
27:45 Jamison: I said, “Look, it’s unfortunate that we’re having this meeting, but it does need to happen.” And so I just put it on… I gave him the opportunity to speak to the issue, and I gave him a heads up. We didn’t try to surprise him and attack him, and I was just blown away by especially the ladies at the business meeting and how they conducted themselves in a calm and clear manner. Some of them going as far as to acknowledge how difficult it must be for him to be in this situation, but the long and short of it is it became very evident that he didn’t understand that this was problematic, that he never acknowledged that the behavior was wrong, never apologized, and so he’s basically on notice. The group voted that he’s not to sit next to any women during meetings and that if it happens again, that’s it. We call a group conscience, we ask him not to come back, and if we need to, we will call the authorities. Hopefully, it doesn’t get…
28:41 John: Wow, you guys handled that really well. Very mature way of handling it. We had that at our group, and I handled it personally in not such a great way, but what happened was the guy was talking to one of the women in our group in a way that if you spoke that way at work, you would be in the… You would be fired for sexual harassment, basically. And so it was totally inappropriate, and I was just… I was really livid when I found out what was going on, and I pulled him aside, and I told him, “I don’t want you to get any near any of the women in our group. I don’t want you talking to them being… I was really upset about it, so he basically just stopped coming to the meeting, period. But I was just really… It just upsets me, because all of us work so hard to create a safe place where people can have an AA meeting and to have something like that brought in just really upset me. Anyway, I probably could’ve handled it better by bringing the entire group into it and having a discussion and maybe even allowing him to participate. Maybe he didn’t understand that what he was doing was wrong or was bothering people. I don’t understand how someone couldn’t think of that, but… So…
29:57 Jamison: Yeah.
29:58 John: Yeah.
29:58 Jamison: I mean, it’s that old adage, some are sicker than others. Knock on wood, he hasn’t stirred out any trouble since then. Missed one of the three meetings or two of the three meetings we’ve had since that group conscience, but it’s just… The reason I mentioned that is because it just speaks to the character of the collective of, “Wow, what a mature and responsible group.” And I love that it… Oh, sorry.
30:25 John: And it’s great that the group can take care of itself. That’s what I like to see about the group that we started here is that now… I haven’t been going to very many meetings lately, and I don’t know why. Maybe I’m a little bit burned out. I would like to start going back again. I go to just one meeting in a week now, but what I like to see is without me being there as the founder, the group moves on. They don’t really… They can take care of themselves, that governs itself, and that’s… I love to see that. They have their… They have business meetings, they have their trusted servants. It’s a…
31:03 Jamison: I totally get it. That was one of the most rewarding aspects of this whole journey for me was I chaired the meeting for three quarters, or… Yeah, about three quarters, and I can be very controlling and want to be a perfectionist and just one of those things I think a lot of people have within them of, “If I’m not here, it’s not going to work.” And I recognize that, and I did have reasons to hold on to it for as long as I did whether they were valid or not, but handing the reins over at the business meeting and seeing my friend who came in and is… I think he’s just coming up on a year soon, taking over and watching him really just blossom with his… It’s so cool. It’s my favorite part of being in a meeting especially regularly attending the same meeting is watching lights come on, watching, so to speak, they spread their wings and start to just grow.
32:10 John: Yeah, yeah, yeah. I just…
32:11 Jamison: So I love it.
32:12 John: Me too. And I had the same experience. We, in the very beginning, like maybe, I don’t know, the first six months, maybe even the first year, I would chair most of the meetings or the co-founder would chair most of the meetings, and I think we did that just to kind of get it, so that we knew what the format was and get things settled, but we always had business meetings from the start every quarter and then we, after about, I think, the first year, we started having other people chair the meetings, and from there, it’s really taken off. Now, there are other people who’ve joined the group who really have taken charge and responsibility for it, and they’ve just brought a whole new dimension to the group that I welcome and really love. And in our case the people, most of the people are those that have never been to AA other than our secular meeting. They don’t have any of the backgrounds of the Big Book or any of that it’s interesting so our meeting is unique in that they don’t have that tradition behind them or that experience of any negativity in AA, they identify as AA members and we go through everything but they have no use for the AA literature or the Big Book and so forth.
33:34 Jamison: That is fascinating.
33:35 John: It really is. In fact, I made a mistake, we had a Step meeting and I was going to try to bring the Big Book into that meeting just to… ’cause I thought it might be nice that people know it and that they appreciate the history and it was such a turn-off, it was horrible, they hated it so lesson learned [chuckle] But isn’t that interesting that AA hangs over that book and people really don’t like it, it’s not that good of a book anymore, it’s old.
34:05 Jamison: Yeah, it is, it is old and my experience with it is I didn’t do my Step work through the Big Book I did it out of the 12 and 12 and mostly over the phone with my sponsor after I would read a chapter we would discuss and that worked for me and he also, I really appreciate this, he told me just skip chapter of the wives…
34:27 John: Skip it, skip it.
34:28 Jamison: Yes, he’s like don’t even read it, one I’m not married and he said, you don’t have kids but also he’s just it’s outdated and pointless chapter for you to read maybe and that’s where he kept it and the other chapter in that Big Book that it’s funny my sponsor and I do to see this one differently we never came to see it eye to eye is he sees the benefit of that, he sees that as the widening of birth for other people to feel like they belong into find AA higher power, I just read it as that essentially condescending and just insulting.
35:11 John: For example about the chapter to agnostics, yeah yeah.
35:16 Jamison: And he disagrees but here’s why I think that up, it’s… I like having those conversations with my sponsor about it.
35:24 John: Is your sponsor the priest?
35:27 Jamison: No.
35:27 John: Okay.
35:28 Jamison: No, he’s not but he’s got a lot of time under his belt, he’s over 30 years sober and a lot of what I actually really appreciate about how he’s sponsoring me and just a lot of our conversations related to recovery is what he calls old-school AA and there’s a lot of stuff that has changed he’s telling me in the meetings especially in this area of Northern New Jersey where things that saved his ass at the beginning from the old-timers when he was new you don’t hear it anymore and it wouldn’t be stood for and I don’t know what the case is in your area but if somebody relapses and comes back there’s usually a welcome back which is great but it’s usually applauded.
36:16 John: Yeah, around here is subdued. They’re not judged or anything but it’s if they acknowledge that they came back and people are usually just nice and it’s welcome back, it’s no big deal made out of it at all.
36:29 Jamison: Right, right and I think that that’s the approach I think that I would prefer and it’s not up to me to dictate how meetings run I find myself not applauding especially the unfortunate folks that find themselves stuck in the revolving door because what my sponsor said was, why are we celebrating their potential loss of life, what’s it going to take it almost like it minimizes how scary that is.
36:58 Angela: Yeah, you know what I don’t like and our group did it for a little while is when you start a meeting by saying, “Is anybody here for the first time after their last drink or something like that?” I hate that because it’s like that period of uncomfortableness where there’s a little bit of quiet and if somebody is going to raise their hand saying that they went out and I also don’t like it because I don’t think… I think it’s like, I think that people if someone relapses is up to them whether or not they want to bring it up, they don’t need to be prodded. So anyway, I don’t think we do that now but we do have… We’re big on the chips thing now, before every meeting we have these sobriety tokens that we give out, at one time we use secular ones but they were expensive and hard to get so now we just use the regular ones and so we always had… We have a 24 Hour Chip, we have a chip for everything 24 hours, 30 days, 60 days, 90 days to everything.
38:01 Angela: No that’s awesome and it’s funny because I haven’t branched out too far since I’ve been sober in terms of traveling to different areas but I’ve been to meetings in Pennsylvania, outside of Philly and outside of Albany and I love going to AA meetings outside of the city ’cause it’s still AA but it’s got a different flavor to it. I think that’s amazing and just recognizing that this is a global movement it gives me chills and I’m not somebody who ever felt anything that I thought other people were describing when they talked about going to church or temple or any of that or what they talk about when they pray if they’re in AA and they do pray to God for another day of being clean and sober and I was jealous, part of me was really jealous of that but I’m finding that. And just the way my perspective of recovery in AA has grown in importance and significance with more time and it’s beautiful, it really is, it’s amazing how that everybody works their own path and that this exists all over the world and it’s just great to know that it’s always there even if it’s a little different than what I know it’s still AA.
39:25 John: Okay, I wonder. Angela, did you just mute yourself or were you muted the entire time?
39:31 Angela: I muted sound so that there wouldn’t be any noise…
39:34 John: Okay. Sorry.
39:34 Angela: From, yeah from Jamison’s story. I just wanted to make sure…
39:39 John: I want to figure that part of the technology out because it would be nice to be able to have you call in. But… I hate to be so technologically specific here, but I have two ways you can call in on the phone. Bluetooth or I actually plugin with a TRS cable and I plugged in with the cable this time. But I betcha if I would have done it Bluetooth, you and Angela would have been able to hear each other and speak with each other. Anyway, lesson learned.
40:05 Jamison: Live and learn. [chuckle]
40:06 John: But I was going to ask you. Did your group get involved with service like outside of the group, like with your district, with your central office, that kind of thing?
40:19 Jamison: So we’d have an intergroup rep. That’s about the extent of it, for now. However, the young guy that’s currently chairing the meeting, shared not too long ago, about when he was in inpatient, rehab that AA meetings would come in and he started to hear the message. He said, “But it would have been really cool if I could have heard a secular message”. And like three heads minding one of them, like immediately looked up as, “Okay, light bulb”. I’m probably going to address it at… In… Yeah, next month we have our next business meeting and see if there is enough interest to find an outgoing speaking commitment to one of the hospitals or rehabs in the area. Yeah, I think that would be really cool just to offer up a little bit of a different taste, right of the message of recovery that AA has to offer. I think, for me anyway, I was so stubborn and small-minded about, “Well, I knew what this was about. This is about I need to hit my knees, I need to turn my life over to a God I don’t believe in”. And of course, I was wrong, but how could I know if that’s all I heard?
41:35 John: Yeah. Well, that’s nice that you guys could do that. Angela was actually talking about how her group would travel together. Some of them were going to travel together to the Sun Conference in British Columbia. And they also traveled together to go to the first secular AA conference in Santa Monica. I thought that was cool. Our group doesn’t do stuff like that. They’re not interested at all in participating in the district, the area or intergroup. We did that at one time, but it was only because of me and a few other people that were interested in doing that, did. And when it came time to ask anybody else if they wanted to or to encourage them, they just weren’t interested at all. They’re really insular. They might go to another meeting every once in a while. I remember one time, a group of them went out to another meeting which was cool. I liked to see that. But for the most part, they just do things together within the group. I guess that’s okay. And maybe someday… I don’t push it on to them to go out and do anything else. But I would like to see our group more connected to the greater AA community. But.
42:50 Angela: Our group’s very involved. But, yeah.
42:52 Jamison: Yeah, no. I totally get it and I don’t want to see AA die. And I think the reality is is that I think… Like I said earlier, “Things need to change for it not to die”. But how do we do that, right?
43:12 John: You know what. AA is really interesting. There are other groups that start-up and they don’t have the magic of AA. There’s something about AA that’s unique and I think what it is, it’s the… And we could lose it if we’re not open and inclusive, but there’s… I don’t know. It’s almost like there’s a warmth to an AA meeting. If you go to like… From what I hear and I’ve not been to one, but like Smart Recovery, for example, it’s a great program. It’s secular, but it doesn’t have the warmth. It has… Like you have a person who is trained to lead the meeting and they have like this therapy stuff that you do. And I’m sure that it’s nice and people enjoy the meeting and get something out of it, but they don’t tend to associate with each other outside the meeting, and it just doesn’t seem as warm from what I hear from people like you have at an AA meeting. And the same is true from what I hear with… I’ve talked to someone from Life Ring, is the same way.
44:29 John: It’s like they have like a little format for their meeting and everything and people get along well of a meeting. But I don’t know, you just don’t have that sense of community as you have in AA. And I don’t know what it is about AA that makes that possible. But I think that that is one strong… One good reason for secular people to stay within the AA fellowship because we have something really special. And our secular meetings are not… I don’t know… They’re not like therapy or something. It’s like they’re just one person helping another as you find in any AA meeting. So I hope that AA survives. And I think the only way that it’s going to is if we are… If we modernize and if we are inclusive.
45:18 Jamison: Yes, yeah, no. I don’t think I could have said it better and more will be revealed, I guess, right? I think that these secular and agnostic meetings are really important. Just because I think it widens that birth, right? To open the doors a little bit wider for people who wouldn’t have found us, or come in otherwise, but I totally get what you’re saying about the warmth of attending an AA meeting. And for me, I don’t know about Smart Recovery personally, I know people that still attend or have attended, but for me that warmth, or that sense of being at home regardless of where I am or what meeting, comes from the fact that I know that even though I might not know your name, I know how you felt, or are feeling, whether I have been there and done the things you did the way you did it, I definitely have the same result of emptiness, despair, all the things, wonderful things, that come with active addiction.
46:22 John: When I go to an AA meeting, even though I might not know everybody really well, I have that feeling of being with family, that sense of comfort of being with family. When I was going to group therapy, I was getting a lot out of it, but I didn’t have that sense of, that I have in an AA meeting. I don’t know what creates that, but it’s very special. And I think that the people in the secular AA community, who think that we should go off and do our own thing should be really careful when they think about that because hopefully, they could maintain that, but I think that that’s worth preserving.
47:02 Jamison: Yeah, I agree completely.
47:06 John: Yeah, and we have this infrastructure, too, of connecting with each other through the AA service structure. Angela mentioned that you couldn’t hear her, but she says her group is really involved. And I think it’s important because of that, to preserve that infrastructure, that service infrastructure, and also, that secular people be part of it, so that we have a voice there because that’s the only way you’re going to see, if you want to see our literature modernized or anything like that, the only way it’s going to happen is if people that want that get involved with the service structure.
47:44 Jamison: A 100%. And I applaud her and her group for taking that on. Part of it I think is, I personally have benefited from “coming out of the closet” with my atheism and I don’t force that into my shares. It’s really depending on the circumstances, and if I’m sharing as a member of the group or qualifying, but when I qualify I do touch on it. And there have been times where I’ve totally side-stepped it or I avoided it when I was newer because I was afraid, I was afraid of how it would be perceived, I was afraid of how it would make me look, but the more honest and open I am in general, when I am participating in an AA meeting, especially when I’m qualifying, the risk is 100% worth the reward. I’ve had people come up to me and say, Wow, I didn’t know there was somebody else that felt that way or believed or lacked belief the way I do. And a few of them have become regular members of the agnostic meetings I go to, but AA, as you said, it has the set infrastructure, it has the platform, and I don’t want to see the baby get tossed out with the bathwater, and I don’t want to change AA, I want AA to change.
49:00 John: Yeah, yeah, that’s good, that’s a good way of putting it. I’d like to see it evolve, I’d like to see it just be more… And when I say AA, too, that’s another weird thing, because AA is really your homegroup. And our home group is doing just fine, but AA World Services, what I’d like to see them do differently is have… I think it’s important to have more… I’d like to see them have more modern literature. I’d like to see… I love the Big Book. It’s a great historical document, keep it around, but we should be able to write some material that addresses the steps and the suggested program of recovery in language that people can relate to today and going forward.
49:46 Jamison: Yeah, yeah and it’s funny because I just, last week, had this conversation with my sponsor who, when I was, I think, probably around 60 some odd, 70, days I was on step three, I believe, he gave me a print-out of The Dilemma of No Faith that Wilson wrote. And it was this essay about, basically, Bill owning his, the errors that he made in being judgmental, or thinking that his way was the only way when it came to a higher power and belief and seeing what it caused, and also listening to other AAs of that time when he wrote it kind of conducting themselves similarly with, I guess, bias and prejudice against people who didn’t believe, or didn’t believe the way they believed. And it’s this wonderful article, and it didn’t even hit me when my sponsor gave it to me, but recently, somebody who was leading one of the agnostic meetings brought that in as the material for our discussion, and I saw it in this whole other light where I had so much more understanding of how huge that was for Bill to write it.
51:03 Jamison: And I really encourage anybody who’s interested to seek it out, The Dilemma of No Faith. Actually, I have it right here. It’s God As We Understand Him: The Dilemma of No Faith. It’s from 1961. And why isn’t that inserted in the Big Book? But the book is the book. If it works for you, great. And I think if you have faith in God, I am truly happy for you if it’s helping, and I actually benefit from when people who have that kind of faith share about it. I used to be turned off and angry or, I don’t know, just, I would check out, and now I try to listen more and somebody, everybody has something to offer if I’m paying attention.
51:45 John: Yeah. Well, why don’t we, in closing, why don’t you tell us where your group is and when it meets?
51:54 Jamison: Happy to. So, the No Pews Required Group is in Lodi, New Jersey, and we meet at the Faith Reform Church, 95 Washington Street, in Lodi, at 6 PM every Sunday.
52:07 John: Awesome. Okay, so now, I’m going to play our after music. Isn’t this cool? I cannot get over this. I’m sorry that you couldn’t hear Angela ’cause… We’re going to work on that, because I’d like to be able to have a podcast with Angela talking with the guests, as well. And the guests hearing Angela. [chuckle]
52:28 Jamison: Me too, it’s too bad, but I can’t wait to hear what she has to say.
52:32 John: Yeah, and thank you, Angela. It was nice talking to you beforehand and we’re going to be putting that secular AA newsletter out tomorrow so everybody can see what’s going on there. We should probably post an article sometime about the conference that’s going to be in British Colombia, top. So, thank you both, and I’ll be talking to you again real soon.
52:54 Jamison: Thanks, John.