Episode 156: Deprogramming from Traditional AA

John H. from the We Agnostics Group in Washington DC makes another appearance on the podcast to talk about deprogramming from AA. The word “deprogramming” may seem strong, but for those of us who have spent some time in traditional AA, didn’t we have to unlearn a few things? I know that I did, and I’m still unlearning and relearning. 

If you haven’t met John H. before or if you aren’t familiar with his work, you can learn more about him at his personal website john-huey.com, and Atheistic AA. There are also numerous audio recordings of his talks, presentations, and podcasts. What follows are links to some of those: 

AA Beyond Belief Episode 114 “Who we Really Are” 

John H. “Relevance of the 12 Steps” 

AA Beyond  Belief Podcast Episode 90

AA Beyond Belief Podcast Episode 3

The transcript for this episode is not a verbatim reproduction of the audio file, but was edited to help make it easier to read. 

Transcript

John S: AA beyond belief is a podcast by, for, and about people who have found a secular path to sobriety in Alcoholics Anonymous.

I’m a real pro aren’t I John?

John H: Oh, you are the best.

John S: This is John S, and I have one of my favorite guests with me today, John H. from the DC group. The DC group is the host city for the upcoming International Conference of Secular AA to be held at the end of October of this year, but we’re not here to talk about that.

Not long ago, John and I were talking about some of the posts we’ve seen in the AA Beyond Belief private Facebook group. The group has grown quite a bit, and there’s a number of people who describe themselves as secular, but they talk much like what you would hear in a traditional AA meeting.

I told John that I was a lot like that, and I’m still trying to train myself to not speak in AA vernacular, but to instead speak like a normal person. I told him it’s kind of like deprogramming. That conversation gave rise to this episode “Deprogramming from Traditional AA.”

John, please take the floor.

John H: I’ll just try to frame it a little bit. This may be a little redundant from some of the other episodes we’ve done, but I consider myself very fortunate, because right from the beginning of my AA career, as a life-long atheist, I never bought into any of the verities, or the steps, or the atmospherics that required you to be a certain way and to act a certain way. Except for the idea that if we made a decision, went to meetings, shared, had some kind of idea of what abstinence was all about, and helped another alcoholic, then maybe we could just move ourselves along.

I never really bought into a lot of the things that I’ve heard other people in the secular fellowship refer to as things that either dominated or influenced their lives for either a longer or a shorter time. So, I’m speaking to this sort of from the outside because none of that ever resonated with or influenced me. However, I have noticed how a lot of this resonates and influences others.

Before we launch into this, I’d like to postulate a couple of questions or ideas about what we’re doing and why we’re here that I think one should ask oneself.

Let’s say you find yourself on the AA Beyond Belief website, or reading the articles at AA Agnostica, or Atheistic AA, or wherever you get your information, and then you find yourself going to these online meetings of atheists and agnostics in recovery. You might attend a secular meeting, or maybe even have started a secular meeting, and you’re going to our convention. This and all the other things that, you and I both have been doing for some time now, me longer than you, but as far as the larger world of secular recovery goes, we both have been doing this since 2014, since that first convention.

You might want to ask yourself, why in the hell am I here? What brought me here? Did the, 12 Steps bring me here? Well, and maybe in some way in my case they did, because I totally rejected them from the outset. Did my happiness with the Big Book bring me here? Did my love for everything that was said to me at a meeting where I came out as an atheist bring me here?

The answer obviously is no. I mean, we’re here for a reason. We’re here because we are dissatisfied. Sometimes in the beginning, we’re very disgruntled and some people come in a little bit angry about what has been said to them, what they’ve heard, and what’s being implied that they should or could be as people in recovery.

John S: I got here because I no longer felt welcome at the AA group where I attended meetings for 25 years. I was constantly being corrected. I had people stare me down like I was committing a crime for not reciting the Lord’s Prayer. I was walking on eggshells at every meeting. I didn’t feel like I belonged, so it was either leave AA or find something else. That’s when I learned about these secular AA groups, and I started one in Kansas City. That is why I’m here, but what’s interesting is that I brought baggage with me. I brought a lot of what I learned over those past 25 years to my secular AA meeting, and I’ve started to change from there.

John H: Well, what they want you to do, in conventional program parlance, is to bring guilt and contrition, and reformation to the process. So, who the hell is guilty? Who the hell needs to be contrite? Who the hell needs reparations? That’s you buddy, you terrible sinner, you rotten scumbag who ended up ruining your life and coming to these meetings, and you brother need to get on your knees and repent!

I mean, if we want to go back to the fundamentalist origins of this whole thing, you couldn’t even attend a meeting until you got on your knees and repented. Everything but the snakes! So, when you’re in that situation, you are less than. You are ipso facto, what they call defective, and you are ridden with what they call character defectsThe dominating factor of your life is not the fact that you’ve done the incredibly courageous and positive action of taking on a habit of a lifetime, and doing what you can to reform the habit that got you into the situation you’re in, but you’re suddenly told that you’re defective.

As I’ve said on numerous occasions, I categorically reject the proposition that alcoholics are inherently defective. They are people who had certain habits that were causing them difficulties, and habits that were maybe causing others difficulty, but as far as being inherently defective as people, I reject that. Now, there are people who come to us who have problems other than alcoholism, and I’m not going to reject that, but it’s been my experience since January of 1987 when I first got exposed to people in recovery, the vast majority of people in recovery are pretty damn good people.

John S: You know, what I think happens is that early on during a person’s experience in AA, they buy into the guilt. I don’t know why. It may be they are conforming to the norms of the group. That’s what I think that I did. They buy into this idea that they’re selfish bastards who need to change and become less selfish, but over time they tend to grow out of that. The longer you carry that with you, the more deeply it is embedded in your behaviors.

I was lucky to start a secular meeting that took off quickly and it was easy for me to leave behind old AA. Over time, through my connections with the people in the secular group, mostly newcomers who never had any experience with traditional AA, and through my connection with the secular AA community online, I’ve been able to let go of all that. It’s a process of letting go of old ideas that I held for the 25 years I spent in traditional AA. Now, after having started a secular AA meeting, it would be difficult for me to attend a traditional AA meeting as an open atheist.  

John H: Right. Well, they want you to, or at least many of the people in the conventional recovery movement, (I’m trying to avoid the use of those initials as much as I can. We’ll talk about that later in the year when we get to ICSAA), but they want you to buy into this position of walking through life with this terrible list of defects.

I’ll tell you a little war story. Many years ago, back in the late eighties, I occasionally would meet a friend over at a place in Washington, a very famous club called the Westside Club. It used to be on Wisconsin Avenue in Georgetown, and some years ago they moved across the street. In the original old Westside Club, when I would go up these narrow set of stairs, at the top of the stairs was this very elaborate wooden plaque. It was about six feet long and three feet high, and it was the first thing you saw when you went into that very prominent club. You would see a lot of faces that you would recognize in media and politics there. This was not a biker club. This was the opposite in Georgetown.

When I went to the top of the stairs and looked up, I’d see this sign and it had a list of character defects in that kind of Gothic script that these fundamentalists like to use. There’s this giant list of at least 40 or 50, or 60 defects of character. It was the first thing you saw when you went into that club. I went there a few times, and I finally told my friend who wanted me to meet him there that I was not going there anymore, because I’m not looking at that fucking sign one more time. It’s insulting and it is inhumane is what it is.

They expect you to think that your friends are telling you this, which is a segue into some other little thing I had in my head. Think about who your real friends are. Think about the people who you really trust from your past, and how they treat you, and what they say to you. I’m very lucky. I’m lucky enough to have people who I went to college with who are still alive. They are still close friends of mine. I’m lucky enough to have a few professional colleagues I knew way back when. And you know, most of all, I’m very lucky to live with a woman I lived with for the last 14 going on 15 years, and I’ve developed a close sense of what partnership and friendship means with her.

I know what my oldest and dearest friends and the people who are closest to me say to me, and how they treat me, and how they frame our friendship and our relationship. Not one of those individuals frames a relationship in the cloud of despair called defects. They’re not coming at me from that point of view, which I think would get someone to ask a very fundamental question, which is what are these people trying to do who frame their relationship with you in terms of your defects?  

This goes to the heart of something, a word I know that’s near and dear to you. The word sponsorship. I mean, what in the fuck do people have to say to you about your personal life in the context of your recovery?  

John S: I think sponsorship has been abused. Early on when I was going to meetings, I found it weird how people would talk about their sponsors. Some would have Drill Sergeant sponsors who would put them in line. People would talk about their sponsors as if they were an authoritative figure who had it all figured out. It bothered me, and then I would see people volunteer themselves to be someone’s sponsor, and direct that person on what to do. I have a lot of problems with that. Now, I say that as a person who when I was younger, had a sponsor who was telling me things that weren’t proper, and I should not have been listening to him. Yeah, I have a problem with sponsorship too.

When you see someone come into our Facebook group who just learned about secular AA meetings and they are newly sober, and they’re in that frame of mind where they’ve bought into the idea that they have these defects of character, that they’re self-centered, that they have to work the steps, and that they need to have a sponsor, blah, blah, blah. Yet, they don’t believe in God, and when they tell their fellow AAs that they don’t believe, but can still work the program, the are given shit. So, they find us, and they think they found, a group of people who do AA without a belief in a god. Right?  

John H: They want to carry it over. You know, I see newcomers from time to time who might look to me for some specific advice about how they need to or want to live their life, and I try as gently as I can to always indicate that the only specific advice I could ever give in this context would be to talk about how I maintained my own sobriety, and how doing a couple of things might benefit you, but that I have no opinion on, and I have no innings in the specific details of your personal life as they relate to your recovery. One of the reasons you recover, one of the reasons you get sober is to formulate more honest, direct and clearheaded opinions about what you do yourself. Not take opinions from me or some other member and graft them onto your life. That’s just crazy.

John S:  I think it would be appropriate if you said that to a new person who tells you they have a sponsor who is dictating what they must do. I think it’s appropriate to tell them they really don’t need to buy into that. I think it’s okay because people need their minds opened sometimes. It’s like the correspondence we had with a friend from Canada who heard you speak in Toronto. He said it was the first time that he heard somebody speak critically of the 12 steps, and for him it was liberating to hear. Let me tell you, I remember the first time I heard somebody speak critically of the 12 steps, and I was shocked. It was shocking. Isn’t that weird, John? It was shocking to me. What I’m trying to say is that you grow out of it.

John H: Well, you know, you come to a place looking for help and you are presented with a list of things to do. You’re presented with a to do list, and it is indicated to you that if you don’t do what’s on this list in order as it’s written, then you are not going to be successful and you are going to be condemned, eternally condemned, be damned. Does that sound familiar? Eternally damned to the condition that brought you to the room to begin with. Instead of saying, we’re going to tell you about abstinence, we’re going to tell you how we dealt with some things in our lives that were difficult, and we’ll do this while sharing in the meeting, not speaking specifically and directly to you.

I was once at one of these fundamentalist meetings that I wrote about it in an article about Back to Basics that was published on AA Agnostica a few years back, and my jaw was hitting the floor when I got done listening to this woman talk about how she made an inventory list in the morning about what she was going to reform today, and in the evening about what she fell short on, and that she reported to her sponsor on a daily basis.

Part of the regimen was also to call five AA members every day. It was crazy. There are thousands and thousands of people out there in the Back to Basics and other fundamentalist wings of this thing who do stuff like that, and it’s implied that you’re not a member of the club. You don’t get your magic ring. I remember when I was a kid, you’d get a magic ring in a box of Cracker Jacks. It supposedly had some power associated with it. You know, you’re made to feel that you absolutely have to toe the line, and that’s just nuts. When I see this happening within our part of the movement, I’m baffled.

John S: So, what do you do? What do you do when someone like me for example, who after 25 years in AA, or someone who is newly sober and bought into all of this? They just discovered secular AA meetings. They go to those meetings, but they still speak in the AA lingo, they use spiritual terminology, they still have a dogmatic view of things. Maybe they’ve even been harmed and don’t realize it. So, what should we do? Do we just let them grow out of it?

John H: Well, if you hear somebody engaging in something that clearly is not good for them, you might want to advise them that they should take a deep breath and think about what’s actually occurring, what’s actually going on. Has somebody got too far into their head? Does somebody really have their best interest at heart, or are they really more interested in pressing an ideological line or some philosophical line? Or some conversion therapy they believe in, that they’re trying to foist on you. Again, I go back to how do your friends treat you?

John S: I think that’s a good approach, but if you just tell them that what they just said is bullshit or, if you make them somehow feel bad because they believe something at that time.  

John H: Unless they really cross the line. Somebody in the AA Beyond Belief Facebook group was posting this Saint Francis prayer the other day, and I said, “What is this shit? Where are you?”

John S: There were a lot of people who started complaining because he would post the most religious passages from AA literature that you could possibly find, and he was posting it without any commentary, and it was pissing everybody off. That’s why I removed him from the group.

John H: It was like from a Jesuit Academy.

John S: I don’t think he was up to any good. I don’t think he was sincere.

John H: Yeah, that’s what’s called a false flag, a bot. I think I accused him of being a bot. That’s one thing, we can easily get rid of a bot, but the people who are sincerely convinced they must do this a certain way, even though they were told that way was religiously inspired direct from Mr. Buchman’s, old Nazi Oxford Group, and not in the best interest of atheists and agnostics, particularly if you read the “We Agnostics” chapter in the Big Book.

They did not have our best interests at heart, and I think that permeates the entire thing and a lot of what these poor people are being told to do is in fact conversion therapy. It is in fact a methodology that is consciously used to bring you to a sense of God consciousness that Wilson talked about over and over and over again, right up until his final days. For those of us who are looking for another way, that just isn’t a productive thing to do.

I’m a natural born rebel. If somebody gives me a list of things to do, if they’re not paying me for it, I mean,  if somebody is paying me what Washington consultants get paid, and it’s a list of things to do, I’m likely to do it because they’re paying what Washington consultants get paid and I’m very happy to do that. If you’re not paying me, what possible benefit does your to do list have for me? That’s just the position I’m coming from, but there are people who do need some sort of list to govern themselves.

John S: Those people should be careful too. I tell you, I’m okay with the 12 Steps, but be careful with the damn things. Don’t beat yourself up with them. Don’t think that they’re magic. Don’t think that you have to do them a certain way at a certain time. You don’t even have to do them at all.

John H: That’s where you and I differ. I’m not okay with the 12 Steps at all. I’m okay with other things, but I’m not okay with that stuff. I don’t understand why people continue to play around with that form of orthodoxy, but I’ve done presentations.

John S: I know, but I can tell you from my perspective, from decades of seeing the world through the 12 steps, every experience through the 12 steps, that it’s really difficult not to do that. I can talk with somebody in Smart Recovery, and they can tell me what they do, and I can identify a step with everything they do. The articles you wrote, the things that you described. I can see the steps all through that.

John H: Yeah, I know. It’s troubling. You know, that just enrages me.

John S: I know that it does. That’s just the way I got programmed, and it takes a while for me to kind of relax with that. You know, I’m much more relaxed about it than I ever have been.

John H: Well, I prefer to say that I came up with some commonsense solutions. It worked for me, and they were more driven by the observations of how people behaved, then something somebody put up on a wall in some club somewhere. All right, I don’t want to go completely off track. What I was trying to say is, I don’t have problems with people who need these fucking lists. I don’t have anything to do with the fucking list. I don’t need the fucking list, but if somebody tells me they need a fucking list, who am I to say you don’t need a fucking list? What I can say is that you don’t need someone doing your thinking for you.

John S: I agree.

John H: If you want to frame your thinking a certain way, even if I don’t particularly like it. That’s your right, and you could just tell me to piss off.

John S: I agree with you on that, and that’s the problem again with sponsorship. If you have a heavy-handed sponsor who tells you what you have do, that you’re not doing the steps right, that you have to do it this way, or you need to start over. That’s bullshit!

John H: You know, I’ve never really thought of myself as formally sponsoring anyone, but I’ve written about something before, and I’ll repeat it here briefly. I had an old friend who I knew very early on in my career in this thing. I knew him from before our secular meeting that started in 1988. I knew him from the months before that, and he’s been a friend of mine for a long, long time. I mean, well over 30 years. I was talking with him not that long ago. We were going to a funeral for a friend of ours who very sadly passed away at a relatively young age, not from alcohol, but from the aftermath of a terrible stroke.

We were going to this thing and he starts telling me how my sponsorship had benefited him, and then I said, “listen, I don’t think I ever had that kind of relationship with you.” Then when I peeled the onion back a little bit, these were conversations we had after meetings, as friends. We talked about various situations with our business, life, family life, you know, home life, whatever, the things that friends talk about. Sometimes we talked about other people we knew in common, whatever. He considered that those conversations, sponsorship, and that struck me as being an organic way to go about it.

I never thought of it, and I still don’t think of it as sponsorship. It was friendship, and there’s nothing wrong with friendship. If you’re friends with someone, if you interact with them, they will have things about their life they ask you about and you’ll respond honestly. Without any sense of superiority or direction or prescribing certain things. Somebody will ask you a question and you respond, and that’s the way, in my mind, it should be. Not this crap of, I’m your sponsor. You’re going to take my directions. I mean, I really hate the shit of these sponsors who if you ever drink, immediately fire you.  

John S: Yeah. That’s not right either. I don’t like the whole concept being fired. That’s bullshit.

John H: Yeah. That’s fucking ridiculous. I’ve been fortunate enough never to get fired. I quit a couple of times in my career, but as far as business goes, I never got fired. You know, from what I understand, getting fired is very unpleasant. It doesn’t really help someone’s recovery, I don’t think. Now you can say that maybe what you’re going through is out of my wheelhouse, or I can’t really deal with it, or something like that, or I’m not professionally qualified. Whatever, but all that crap, it’s all the same draconian old-style program bullshit that people drag with them into secular recovery.   

John S: You’re going to see that John, because more and more people are dissatisfied with what’s going on out there. They’re going to start attending secular meetings, but they’re still going to bring some of that baggage with them, and I think it’s going to take some time.

John H: Well, we used the word “deprogramming” tongue in cheek. You know what a deprogrammer is and where that phrase came from? People were involved in religious cults and the family would hire somebody to literally snatch the person and lock them in a room somewhere.

John S: Back in the 70’s, we had a lot of really hardcore cults, the Moonies for example.

John H: I had a dear friend of mine, a beautiful young woman who got involved with the Children of God out in California. I remember back in the 80’s her sister called me once a week, begging me on the phone to snatch her from this Children of God place. This was before I got sober, probably in the early to mid-eighties when I got this call. I said, “Sorry. I just can’t get involved in doing something like that.” Her family was very wealthy as well, and could hire somebody, but I don’t know what good it would do to force someone. You have to sort of wait for them to conclude that what they’re being sold is incorrect.

So, to a certain extent, my opinion really hasn’t changed. If somebody really is in this cult, what I might wonder is, if you’re really into this cult or sect where the book and the steps, and all those other things are so important to you, what in the hell are you doing with us?

John S: That’s a good question and I think it’s a tough question to answer because it’s probably different for everybody. Something happened at their home group that caused them to feel uncomfortable, that made them feel like they don’t belong. Something happened and it has to do with their belief system primarily. Then they discover us, and they think, “Great, a group of AA people who don’t believe in God.” But they bring that stuff with them, and it just takes a while for them to get to a place where they learn from people like you that they can let go of much of what they’ve learned and what they’ve been told. It does take some time though.

John H: It does take time. It’s amazing to me sometimes how threatened people get over some of my opinions. I always generally try to make the disclaimer that I’m just another guy speaking for himself about what I did and how I did it. I am no authority in your life or anybody else’s life. I’m just talking about what happened with me, but I say that certain things don’t make sense, they just don’t add up, and people get bent out of shape.  

John S: Yeah, it’s interesting. Some people hear you talk like that and they love it because they never heard it before, and it’s changed them. Other people feel threatened because you are challenging their beliefs.

John H: Yeah. I mean, this shit either adds up or it doesn’t. I’m not going to go into politics, but you know, I was having some discussions with some true believing friends of mine. I’m on the extreme left of the spectrum and I was trying to reason with them, and it was like dealing with somebody who has this religious belief. As soon as you question it, you’re suddenly a traitor of some sort. I mean, that can be taken into all realms of life. We’re not traitors to anybody. We are people in recovery who do in fact have interest in the sobriety of everyone who has a problem with this. We do have that interest at heart, but what I try to do is divorce all my other interests from that singular interest of trying to somehow, tell someone that you can stop, you can make a decision about this thing that’s harming you, and then you get to live a life on your own. So, why would I tell someone you get to have a good life making up your own mind, and then try to tell them how to fucking think? It’s crazy.

John S: Are you familiar with Monica Richardson?

John H: No.

John S: Oh boy. You should look her up. She produced a documentary film, “The Thirteenth Step.”  

John H: I lived that once or twice, but I’ve never heard of the film.

John S: It’s a documentary and it’s pretty good. She was in AA for some 30 years and she left and she sees AA as a cult. She hates it, and she has various Facebook groups and a website that’s all about helping people deprogram from AA. She’s really an interesting person. She has a podcast that I used to listen to.

Anyway, I reached out to her. I sent her an email last night, and I asked her to come on this podcast. I would be interested in hearing what she has to say about all of this, but I don’t think she’s going to come on. There’s a group of people out there who are so against AA, even people who say they are secular within AA. These people want nothing to do with it.  

John H: I know a couple of people like that. Because those initials are in the various names, they won’t get within a mile of us, and they accused me of still being an AA member. When I say that I have nothing whatsoever to do with conventional AA. They still say, well, those initials make you in AA. What can I say?

These folks who have the conspiracy theories, you know, I don’t think there’s some grand inquisitor sitting in Manhattan, cooking up ways like the old Reverend Moon or Jim Jones or somebody like that. You know, with evil intent, at least these people don’t have evil intent. They’re just Christians. They think that Christianity and the spirit of Christianity is what gets people sober.

I’m a diehard, lifelong atheist. I say no it doesn’t. That’s it. All right, but if they’re sitting there at their conventional meeting getting sober that way, it’s certainly better than being drunk or abusing their family or doing some other unwise thing with and to themselves. So, from that point of view, I’m not opposed in the manner of condemning it all as a destructive cult, because if you honestly sign up to that yourself, you give up a certain amount of your autonomy, but you did it.

I believe that most of them do it voluntarily. It’s the young ones, the new ones, who get under the thumb of the sponsorship thing and that programming. So, how do we do deprogramming without locking somebody up in a room somewhere? It’s mainly what we’re doing right now. It’s the power of example. It’s some old diehard like myself saying, “well, I never did any of that, but I’ve had a pretty damn reasonable life, not a perfect life, but a reasonable life.”

John S: It will be the first time for a lot of people ever to hear that. I swear to God. I remember hearing people like John Lauritsen speak about how he didn’t have a use for this crap. I never heard that before, and it did open my mind to a different way of thinking.

John H: He’s, he’s going to be here with us in Washington. He’s got a presentation, and it’s going to be great to see him. I think he’ll have 52 or 53 years or something like that at the time.

John S: Sometime I would like to have you back on again to talk about what you have planned for ICSAA. You’ve mentioned a couple times that there are some things you want to talk about. I am interested in what you have in mind.

John H: Well, I may do a session there on deprogramming, but you know that you and I are going to have a discussion about the dishonesty of having those initials associated with our name, and that’s going to be in the big room. Gregg’s got it on the schedule. We’ll be like an open forum.

John S: I agree with about 95% of what you have to say, and there’s about 5% that I don’t agree with, but I will tell you what I don’t agree with, and what I think.  

John H: You can be upfront about that. Like in Toronto, there may be some people on the floor who get up and start screaming at us. Well, we’ll see.

John S: I remember that somebody got mad about something. What was that about?

John H: I don’t know what it was about. It was like a brain fuck. I just sat there and admired the way that Vic in his incredibly-dressed Manhattan cool handled the whole thing. He did a great job.

Back to what we were talking about, since we’re sort of coming to an end of our time here. Maybe the billing of this as a deprogramming is a little tongue in cheek, but if you are being dominated, and this is where I go back to things that I’ve seen on the AA Beyond Belief and the Secular AA Coffee Shop Facebook groups that are deeply disturbing to me. People talk about this stuff, this sponsorship stuff, this having to do the steps in a certain way stuff, and they’re miserable. They’re unhappy. They think they’ve done something wrong. They think maybe even they’re not going to make it if they don’t get back to the true path, to the true way. Instead of following your own heart, your own mind, your own best self, which is why you got sober to begin with.

I didn’t get sober to follow your way. I lost my way myself and I got sober to find a way back to myself that worked for me. Not something that worked for you. Who are you? Who am I to tell anybody specifically how to do this thing? These people are feeling guilty for something that someone did to them.

John S: So, you’re not mad at those people. You’re mad at the whole damn situation.

John H:  At the system, at somebody who had the temerity to tell a newcomer that they had to believe they have these defects that need to be remedied in a certain way, or that they will inevitably succumb to a fatal condition. That’s abuse, and it’s used and can be used in abusive ways by people who have their own personality issues and no one really questions it, at least in many conventional settings, they don’t question it because you know, many have tried, but none have failed unless they did it our way.

None of them failed. Right. What horse shit, none of them failed. I can take them to a couple of fucking funerals that I went to for people who did it exactly their way every day and they died anyway.

I want people, to be good to themselves. Why look for an answer outside of yourself and the people who love you? The people who care about you in your life, the one’s you know the most will show you more about the way of your life than anyone else. When I talked to my daughters, when I talked to my wife, when I talked to my oldest friends, they showed me what I am and what I’ve done.

Now, what the people in sobriety did, and the people who got it and stayed sober did is to show that if I maintained abstinence, I would find this way back to myself, that I would find this way that worked for me and they gave me an estimable gift, but they didn’t tell me how to live my life.

John S: Well, for anyone who might be listening to this podcast and hearing John for the first time, I would definitely recommend that you go to atheisticaa.com and read the series of articles he wrote that we are re-posting on a monthly basis at AA Beyond Belief. I find them to be positive and truthful, and I think what he wrote in that series of articles is what I see happening at my home group, We Agnostics Kansas City, and I hope that it’s happening at other secular AA groups. We are less concerned about following a process and doing what we’re told, but instead are simply having an experience and connecting with people. We experience getting well through abstinence.

John H: Yeah. Well, I mean, if you’re not hungover, you can listen to this.

John S: Oh, there’s so much. So much more you can do when you’re not drunk and hungover and having problems from all that.

John H: You become less self-obsessed without being told that you have to be.

John S: Those are great articles. Definitely read those. Well, John I guess we pretty much have covered things.

John H: Yeah, I just didn’t want anybody to get the wrong idea about this word deprogramming, you know?

John S: I don’t know if you caught it when I was talking about how I was programmed. I’m honestly working on changing the vernacular that I use. I don’t like to say ‘I’m sharing’, for example, when I’m talking. There’s a lot of AA verbiage and lingo, and I’m trying not to use it anymore.  

John H: I’m certainly not going to talk about my character defects.

John S: That’s right. Yeah. I won’t use language like that. I don’t use language like higher power, character defects. Oh God, I could go on and on. I should write an article about it.

John H: Yeah. Well, I mean, if I’ve got something wrong with me, I’ve got a wife and two adult daughters who will be more than happy to point that out. They know more about the story anyway. So, I guess we sort of masticated this one and, hopefully it resonated for someone. We’ll see when we play it back.

John S: I’m going to play some music.

John H: I’m due for some Bob Marley

John S: This is the AA Beyond Belief I’m leaving music. This is the music I play when I start asking for money. You know, all good preachers ask for money at the end of the sermon?  Just kidding.

No, but if you are interested in supporting our podcast and website, we would appreciate it. You can do that by visiting our Patreon site at patreon.com/aabeyondbelief, or just go to our website and click on the donate button, but don’t worry about it if you aren’t inclined to donate or you don’t have the money, it’s totally okay. We do this because we love it.

John, thank you very much for appearing. I appreciate it. We’re going to have you back on again to talk about whatever you want to, whenever you want to.

John H: Thank you.


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John HueyRohitBill F.Marty KerrKatie McCarthy Recent comment authors

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Bill F.
Bill F.

great episode, thank you

Marty Kerr
Marty Kerr

Enjoyed the frank discussion re value of the 12 steps, always of interest to us atheists who came from “traditional” AA. I can understand John H.’s strong anti-step opinion. However, it’s just an opinion, and although certainly your right to have and share it, I come across with the feeling that you’re being as dogmatic as those Bible beating 12 Step promoters. Language and words are important and the manner in which they are assembled. Your dismissive ness of any spiritual principles potentially stated or implied in the steps, and, more importantly, their utility in getting and staying sober, is… Read more »

John Huey
John Huey

Thanks for you honest reaction. My experience of those things is based on over 33 years of close observation and exposure and, contrary to what you might think, is also based on decades of thorough investigation and considerable study that proved, to me at least, that my initial reaction to those things was correct as regards their Oxford Group based content. I’ve also always tried to indicate that if those things are for anyone that might hold them dear that they are a perfectly valid way to get and stay sober and that I’m also aware that they have worked… Read more »

Marty Kerr
Marty Kerr

Pm

Marty Kerr
Marty Kerr

Marty Kerr response to John

Rohit
Rohit

I live in Shanghai were we have a very small AA scene. Just one clubhouse where everybody knows everybody and only 2 atheist meetings. I am staying sober (3 years so far) without a sponsor and without the steps. There are but two us in Shanghai AA who have chosen this path. I constantly have to deal with people in the fellowship telling me I am making a mistake, in danger of relapsing, missing out on growth etc. So for me to here John’s words is a welcome relief. Just to know that somebody has followed a similar path and… Read more »

John Huey
John Huey

You can’t miss if you don’t drink and stay true to who you know yourself to be. Happy to be of assistance any time Rohit.

Katie McCarthy
Katie McCarthy

People who take in the steps and the bullshit go on to sponsor others in the same way .
And they’ll say your friends aren’t telling you the truth either

steve b
steve b

Interesting conversation. I don’t want to seem like a prude, but all the swearing detracted from my enjoyment of reading it. I find myself in a position similar to John H’s, in that I too am a lifelong atheist, I too don’t work the steps, and I too have long-term sobriety (40 years). A long time ago I worried that if I didn’t work the steps correctly I would be at risk of getting drunk. Now that I don’t bother with them, that worry is gone. I go to local, traditional meetings a couple of times a month, and have… Read more »

John Huey
John Huey

Try listening. In context it might be more entertaining. As a forum for adults sometimes adult language will be used as points of emphasis. Culturally, many children of the 60’s spoke this way. Some evolved, others didn’t.