Although alcoholism runs through his family history, Chad’s growing up years seemed normal to him. He felt loved and secure in his home environment. Looking back if there was anything about him that seemed unusual was a general sense of unease and a tendency toward perfectionism. In this episode Chad talks about his experience with alcoholism, recovery, and the secular AA meetings he attends in Arizona.
00:00 John: AA Beyond Belief is a podcast by, for and about people who have found a secular path to sobriety in Alcoholics Anonymous.
00:26 John: Okay, we’re here for another podcast; AA Beyond Belief, this is John and I have a guest today, his name is Chad H and he is from Chandler Arizona, at least he lives there now and he sent me a message on Facebook and told me a little bit about his story and it sounded real similar to mine, so I thought, well, it’s been a while since we’ve had someone share their personal story. So I thought come on to the podcast and let’s talk about it. How are you doing Chad?
00:54 Chad: I’m doing well. Good that you have me on here today. I’m looking forward to this.
00:58 John: Well and this is like my favorite thing in the world to do. If I could do this for a living, I would. Just to kick back, have a cup of coffee, talk to somebody in AA, somebody who pretty much agrees with me.
01:10 Chad: Yeah, yeah, no. I mean that’s always a bonus, right?
01:13 John: Yeah. Well occasionally I’ll have someone who doesn’t agree or I don’t agree with but I don’t make a big thing out of it, it’s that… Have you ever heard the episodes I’ve had with John H from DC?
01:24 Chad: So is that the one… I was listening to one recently, I can’t remember his name, is that the one where you guys were talking about deprogramming.
01:29 John: Yeah.
01:30 Chad: That one that. Okay, yeah.
01:30 John: That was actually an interesting conversation. I don’t agree with him on everything but that’s cool. He’s a nice guy. I like having him on, he’s a very interesting guest. Let’s get right into it if you don’t mind. Let’s just go into your story and let a conversation flow from that, the floor is yours.
01:50 Chad: No, that sounds good. So I mean really, for me, like a lot of people, I guess you could start with my sort of family history, it’s all over my family. I had a grandfather who died from it in his 40s, cousins, both my parents are alcoholics and so for me personally, I believe that it’s a genetic thing in my brain and I got it but grew up in a fairly normal home, meaning the one thing about both of my parents being alcoholics is that they were actually, they were sober and they were going to meetings so I knew about AA pretty young. I’d go to the meetings once in a while with them and when I was a young kid, I didn’t really understand it, I just knew that we’d go to these smoke-filled rooms and eat sugar cubes in the back of the room but I didn’t really know what it was but as far as growing up in the household, I mean nothing crazy.
02:42 Chad: I mean, we always had what we needed. We were kind of a lower middle income family but everything was good, felt love, felt nothing crazy. One thing, I was always kind of a nervous kind of a worrier type kid, high anxiety I guess you could say, coupled along the line too perfectionist. I was always kind of one of those kids that if I wasn’t the best or the first right away, I would screw it. I don’t want nothing to do with it but again, nothing crazy in the household but when I was 17 years old, which can be… I guess that’s kind of late for some people but I got drunk for the first time, up to that point I hadn’t really had any opportunities to drink alcohol or be around it and I remember it like it was yesterday because it had such a profound effect on me. When I was new in AA, there used to be a gentleman that I always, I kind of stole it from but he always used to talk about the first time that he had… He loved pepperoni pizza but he couldn’t remember the first time he had…
03:42 John: Right, yeah. That’s a good point.
03:44 Chad: He loved chocolate ice cream, all these types of things but I can tell you that almost…
03:48 John: Isn’t that interesting?
03:49 Chad: Yeah, it’s crazy, right? because it just had such a profound effect. I remember I was at a lake cabin with a couple of guys in Minnesota and we were drinking Busch light pounders, the big tall 16-ounce cans and whiskey and I remember when I got enough in me to achieve that effect, I remember thinking to myself, wow I like this, this is good and I proceeded to develop that phenomenon of craving right off the bat. I’d never drank before and it was like that first time I couldn’t get drunk enough. I mean, I was doing shots of Tequila, I mean that just, instantly the physical part just took over right off the bat. I blacked out, had probably the worst hangover I ever had but I love that effect. I’m more of a binge drinker.
04:31 Chad: I did that for the next five years. I’m not a guy that could drink every day. I was always get really hammered, off and running, maybe sober for a couple of days, back on it but once I flip that switch, I was gone and I never meant to do it, it was never like “I’m going to go out and get drunk.” It was like, “Let’s go have a couple of beers.” and it was just like that certain point. So I did that from age 17 to 22.
04:58 Chad: Now I mentioned before that I was around AA so I knew a little bit about it and I don’t really know what happened like I’m one of those people that I didn’t have any real external consequences. I didn’t get in trouble, I never went to… I mean I drove drunk a lot, I got lucky I was in a smaller town with 50,000 people so it wasn’t like I was getting on freeways going 70 miles an hour but I would say the last couple of times. Well, maybe the last few months, I was drinking and I knew there was something off, I just knew it. I’m like, I didn’t drink like other people and I think that’s probably why alcoholics tend to drink with other alcoholics because who the heck wants to be around some guy that’s going home at nine after three.
05:37 Chad: I didn’t relate to guys like that but maybe the second to last time I drank, I had promised myself I was going to try not to drive anymore and I ended up driving in a black out and it was just kind of a combination of that and I just thought, I need to take a look at this. There’s a problem here and I think it also helped that I was around some AA members. My dad was an AA member. I would go… He had a little store in my home town and I’d go by and see him and there would be these guys and they’re hanging out and I knew they weren’t drinkers and they were kind of smiling and they had this little gleam and they go, “Oh, how are you doing Chad?” kind of that thing. When you’re still drinking, you’re like eh, that guy but I respected it and I don’t know, I just said, “You know what, I probably need to go.” There was this Tuesday night meeting that I knew about. I’m like, “I probably should go to that meeting.” I’m like I’m drinking way too much and I don’t have an answer to why that is.
06:27 Chad: Surrender is a funny thing, I just… Something clicked for me, I can’t explain it and from the moment I made that decision that I needed to be at that meeting, it was removed from me. I didn’t really think about it after that and I don’t know if that was a combination of that, I was still pretty young and I hadn’t drank for 20 years but it wasn’t that big a deal for me. I went in, I need to be here. I accepted it. That particular meeting, I’ve come to find out now is pretty unique and I’ve been to a lot of meetings since.
06:56 Chad: They kept it very simple, the format and it’s still the same today. The format was what we used to be like, what happened, what we’re like now. There wasn’t a topic. They would just call on members of the group that would come up and share and their whole idea was that it wasn’t about… It was more about, they would do that so that the new guy would come in and hopefully relate and then they could say, “Man, I’m struggling too, what did you guys do?” And hopefully bring them along the path. It wasn’t necessarily that the new person needed to share and get stuff off their chest it was, “Hey they’re struggling. Here’s what we do.”
07:31 Chad: So they basically just said, “Get a home group that meets at the same time and place, be at that meeting every week, get a sponsor and use that sponsor and don’t drink.” And as far as the sponsorship thing, they weren’t like this die hard, you better call your sponsor every five minutes and there’d be jokes once a while. Did you ask your sponsor about that? But it wasn’t like a real, just hardcore.
07:53 Chad: And then as far as God and stuff, people would talk about God and mention God and prayer and stuff but I up to that point, I never really had a big thing about God. I wasn’t anti-God but I was just kind of like, I kind of instinctively… I guess my thought on God, if there was a God, he didn’t know the difference between me and a tree. It’s just kind of this thing and it’s just kind of there and so I never was like, well he’s judging me, blah, blah, blah. So I went to this meeting for seven years or six years, I apologized and I was there every week and I’d never heard about 90 in 90 and some of these other things. I didn’t even know what they were. I just knew that, “Okay. I made a decision I probably shouldn’t drink anymore.” and I just accepted it and I was there and I helped. I sponsored guys, I went through the steps and those were good tools. There was nothing against… I wasn’t against any of that type of stuff.
08:41 Chad: Fast forward a little bit about five, six years with my wife and I decided that just from a career standpoint and our future standpoint, her sister was down here in Phoenix and we thought, maybe be good to move it on down, better opportunities down. So we packed it on up and rolled down here to Phoenix. So I came down here with a head full of AA and “Okay, I’m going to find a group and I’m going to get going.” and things were okay for a little while but for the next seven years, I just never got comfortable in a meeting. It’s kind of like, I heard somebody in AA say one time that, “Alcoholics are a lot like baby ducks.” You’ve ever heard that before?
09:23 John: I haven’t actually heard that.
09:24 Chad: The first meeting you go to, that’s it’s like a baby duck, the first thing it sees is it thinks it’s his mom. The first meetings you go to, those are the ones you sort of gravitate towards and so for me, I never got real comfortable. I came down to Phoenix and it was just different. More topic-type, just the way they did things and I was okay with some of that. I would go to a home group for a while, I joined it, I was there and then I’d leave again and I jumped around to probably three or four different home groups but I was… Again, I was always at meetings. I was always there but I’d say somewhere along my probably, my sixth year or so, I really started to develop a different way of looking at God or it was probably starting to lean more towards atheist type views because I would sit in a meeting and I would hear a guy say like, “God gave me this job today because I prayed.” or… Just some of the wording.
10:16 Chad: And I get it, like everybody’s different but I had a sponsor that was really into God and he would tell me I should be praying every day and should be doing these types of things and it just… And I don’t know what happened, it just really was bothering me and I was getting very uncomfortable with that type of thinking in AA and my 13th year, the last couple of months of that year would have been 2011. I’d probably gone about a month without going to a meeting and I hadn’t done that in 13 years and I wasn’t feeling the meetings anymore and my sponsor called me up, said “What’s the deal? Aren’t you going to AA anymore?” I’m like “Well maybe AA isn’t for every alcoholic. Maybe there’s something else. Maybe I just… I know I can’t drink but maybe if I do some other things.” He’s like, “Wow! That’s not going to work.” whatever and I picked up my 13 year medallion at a meeting and I was just real honest. I said, “I don’t really want to be here. I hope that changes.” I think I went to one more meeting and then I picked up March of 2012.
11:11 Chad: Now, I’m not here to blame AA or meetings or say that’s the reason I drank. I think it was also, I got this thought in my head that I’m just a high strung person and maybe if I could just relax once in a while and I came into AA at 22 and I was pretty young. Maybe I wasn’t even an alcoholic, maybe I was just a binge drinker or whatever and I picked up and another five, I went to five more years of drinking and in the beginning it wasn’t… I mean I was drinking, I still was going to work, I was still… All my external things seemed okay. I maintained my job, I was getting…
11:46 Chad: So I’d go have some beers with the guys once in a while. I felt kind of like back in the saddle but that one thing and that to me that… For me the most important thing about this is abstinence for me now because that physical part for me was just once I started drinking I just… Again, for me it’s probably about the three or four drink mark, somewhere in there. I just… I can’t go and I’m most of the time I blackout, most of the time because I just go so hard and fast.
12:17 Chad: And so I did that for five years and every now and then I’d have a bad night and I think… I’d go to a meeting. Maybe three or four years in, I think I went to a few meetings and then I was, “Ah, you know.” And then I would, I’d go back. The last time I drank, I actually had drank… My kids were actually out of town, it was just me and my wife and I had drank like three or four days in a row pretty heavily like binge drinking. I’d never done that up to that point and I ended up having some physical withdrawals and I got really sick and I mean just like shaky. I went into urgent care and the doctor diagnosed me, he called it holiday heart. He said when sometimes with people over the holidays, they’re drinking too much when they come out of it.
12:55 Chad: But I think that this time around having 13 years of AA in my head along with the drinking, I just said to myself… It was just open wide enough for me to surrender again and say, “This just can’t… I gotta look at this again.” so I ended up calling that sponsor back up. He met me at a meeting and I started going to meetings again and it wasn’t easy. I had some of the highest anxiety I’d ever had in my life. I look at it now and I’m kind of a science buff and I do a lot of reading about this type of thing and I think my chemicals in my brain were re-trying to reset themselves, were used to this thing in their system every couple of days and it wasn’t there anymore and I would go to meetings but I’d probably say six months in I just…
13:50 Chad: “I’m having such a hard time with this God thing.” And I don’t… And I can’t sit in these meetings and even like with the steps, I was just… I was having a really hard time with it. So I don’t know what happened but I went on my computer one day and I just typed in like atheist AA. I don’t remember exactly how I did it and then this thing popped up, secular meetings, I’m like, “What’s this?” I’d never heard of that and so this is probably going on a little over two years ago, this was… I got sober in July 2017, this last summer but I’m like, “I wonder what these are?” I found one that was in Tempe, Arizona real close to me and I ended up going over there and I walked in and the format was “Hey, well you know, we don’t… There was nothing in there about God, there was no prayer, there wasn’t anything. It was just pretty much a regular AA meeting.
14:36 Chad: It was just cool to know that there were other people that were struggling with this and that there is a way to get sober without God or even like the steps sometimes I’m not… You know, I mean that for me the steps are very simple they mean what they say and I think they’re good tools but this thing that’s driven into you, here’s what you need to do, you know all the time and so I went to these secular meetings and the ones that I went to, I would have to say we’re pretty much just like a traditional AA meeting but removing the God stuff, you know. I found them… You know, the jargon was the same. Some of those things were the same.
15:16 John: Yeah.
15:17 Chad: And which is fine, I mean, you know. What had always drawn to me to AA in the first place from the beginning when I first came in, in 1998, was one of the old-timers there always used to say, “When you go and hear another alcoholic share, it was kind of like a bedtime story, right?” It just kind of comforted you, because to me, in my opinion, what Bill and Bob found more than anything was that ability to relate to one another, to sit down with another alcoholic and be honest, “Here’s what’s going on in my life.” And I know, obviously, all the other stuff, steps, God and all those things came out of that stuff but to me, just that act of like what you and I are just talking right now, just relating and for me to… Well, I remember those first few meetings just listening to someone, so I liked that.
16:02 Chad: One thing I did have to get over and this is something I see sometimes in this agnostic like a secular movement and I try not to be this way, is this sort of… And even playing down traditional meetings. Like kind of being negative about them or you know, why, you know, whatever. I don’t want to be that way anymore. I have no problem going into a regular traditional meeting now and just sitting and listening and sharing. I do sometimes mention I’m an atheist because… And the only reason I do that is because I feel like in 2011, if somebody had said that in a meeting when I was struggling with that, I might have stuck around, I don’t know. I maybe wouldn’t have, I can’t say that for sure but I don’t…
16:43 Chad: When I do share in a meeting and I do mention that, I don’t go off on tangents and try to prove anything or get into it with anybody, it’s just, this is me, right? I don’t get so caught-up anymore in the wording. If somebody says, God or whatever and I’m sure you’ve heard this before and it is, you know the good orderly direction thing or sometimes I just say, we’re using words to describe things in different ways.
17:08 John: That’s right.
17:08 Chad: Somebody says God…
17:09 John: Same experience but describing it differently.
17:12 Chad: Exactly, exactly and I’m looking at it as, my whole thing is; my higher power or whatever I… The way I live is, I try to be a part of the ever changing flow of the universe, that’s it and just the universe is going to do what it’s going to do and I’m just trying to be a part of it.
17:27 John: You know, when you were describing that group as using the jargon and so forth, in my mind it clicked with me, “Okay, those people were going to traditional AA probably for a long time and then started going to the secular group.” Because see, my group here in KC the majority of the people have never been to traditional AA. So you don’t hear that, you don’t hear… You don’t have that tradition of that jargon and you also don’t have people who can compare their secular experience to the traditional experience. Now, there are some like me who have had that background but the majority haven’t and what’s so cool about that is with the majority of people not having that background that subject just never comes up. [chuckle] It’s just kind of…
18:10 John: I like that yeah so that tells me that… because every group is a little bit different and groups go through changes too. Like when we first started our group, we were AA people, we had that experience and there was some AA bashing going on. Especially during our growing process when we had people from another group discovered us and I mean, I swear to God for like three months almost every meeting was bashing the group they came from. [chuckle]
18:35 Chad: Right, right, yeah. No, I get that.
18:39 John: But it changed over time to where that’s not happening. So that’s kind of cool. Yeah but when you said that, the jargon and told me what type… That their group… And I know some of the people from Arizona, so it makes sense.
18:50 Chad: Yeah. Yeah and there’s some good… And I’ve definitely met some people here and it’s been good but the thing is, it’s kind of like… Actually, your point about that actually brings me back a little bit to my very first meeting because my first meeting I went to, like I said, I’d never heard some of those things like, 90 in 90 and so I never even… When I first moved to Phoenix and I heard that for the first time, I think I’m like, “What is that? I don’t even know what 90 in 90 is.” In fact…
19:13 John: And where did you come from, from Phoenix?
19:15 Chad: North Dakota.
19:15 John: Okay, North Dakota.
19:17 Chad: Yeah, yeah. So there was a meeting in Moorhead Minnesota, called the Thursday Night Moorhead. There was a gentleman there, he’s long since passed, his name was Don Nicholson and to me, we always have those one or two guys that stand out to us, you know? And he was one of those guys that he just… Though, he put things very simply and he had a number of years sober. In fact, he had… I guess, he had known Bill Wilson a little bit and so he was just one of those guys and so that meeting… So my hometown was an offshoot of that group and their… Again, their whole idea was just to keep things simple and it’s about a newcomer, it’s not about… Like, we didn’t even give out medallions like when I was there.
19:57 Chad: We recognized sobriety but we would always say that the reason we’re recognizing sobriety is so that that new person can see that it’s a way to do it and we didn’t make it about us and I’m not against any of that stuff but again it’s back to kind of what you were saying with the secular meetings that you bring in these new people now, they don’t know about that other stuff. They don’t know about, you know, whatever meeting-makers make it or…
20:18 Chad: All that type of stuff. So yeah I mean… And my main goal, when I reached out to you, was; my goal today is just trying to be helpful. I just want to, if somebody can relate to what I’ve gone through, I gotta tell you one thing, with somebody who had 13 years of pretty active good AA, I could quote that big book verbatim. To go back out and drink for five years and now have that experience. I tell people all the time that my dad and I talked pretty regularly. He’s still an active member of AA and he’s over 40 some years sober and I tell him all the time that I hopefully come out of that and I don’t want to go back to that, it’s the best thing that ever happened to me.
21:07 Chad: I had to go through that because it changed a lot of perception. For me, it’s all about changing my perception. One of my AA, I guess, heroes, for lack of a better word, was Chuck Chamber, Chuck C, new pair of glasses guy. He talked a lot about God and stuff but he always talked about uncovering, discovering and discarding. Discovering is getting rid of those old ideas and that’s what I try to do today is to be open and remain teachable and that would be my only thing. Like with meetings today, when do I go to meetings? I think I try to look at it in the perspective from a newcomer and I think sometimes traditional AA meetings, in my opinion, get so caught up in doing things a certain way that I think they forget guys get 20 years sober, 30 years sober.
21:52 Chad: This is how we’ve always done it. There’s an old story. One time that I heard that one of my old managers, in business, told me. He said; there was a mom on Easter Sunday and she was cooking a ham and before she put the ham in the oven, she cut the ends of ham off and her daughter asked her mom, “Why are you doing that?” She’s like, “You know, I don’t even know why. Why don’t you go ask grandma? She always did that. She’s in the living room.” Go out asked grandma, “Grandma! Why did you cut the ends of the ham off.” Gram said, “You know, my mom always used to do that.” Well, it turned out, you could probably guess that once upon a time, stoves were a lot smaller so they had to cut the ends of the ham to get it in the stove.
22:24 John: There was a reason. Isn’t that funny?
22:26 Chad: Yeah and so, I look at meetings sometimes and some of the things we do in meetings, I think, “why are we still doing this?” One of the bigger things that I have a hard time with, when I would go to the meetings here, not all are that way I’m not… Again, I’m not here to a meeting bash or anything but if I’m somebody who’s struggling with drinking, I’m having a hard time, I’m like I have a job, I seem to be able to function, whatever but God when I drink, I just can’t seem to stop. Let me go check out this AA thing. Let me go. Well, it’s at this church. Okay, well it’s a roadway church. Okay, alright, I’ll pull into the parking lot, the meeting starts at 8:00. I don’t want to go in too early. Alright, I’ll come in maybe, I’ll come in at 8:01, I’ll sit down in the back and I’ll start listening.
23:10 Chad: In the meetings here? I don’t know how about where you’re from but the one of the first thing; “anybody new here tonight?” and I just feel like it took everything in their power for that kind of get in that door and our whole thing was at my first home group was, if I’m at that meeting every single week, if I see a new face come in whether or not that person is three days or three years, I should go over and introduce myself and if they’re new, I’m going to find out in a second. I don’t have to reach… Something small like that but that’s kind of my thing when I start to have some issues with AA… And it’s just so.
23:47 John: Speaking of that, we made a change in our group and in this part of the Midwest, what’s traditional for people for AA groups to do when they have a newcomer at the meeting, they give them what’s called a first-step meeting. So basically… Yeah so you go around the room and everybody tells their stories and usually those are very long meetings because people don’t know how… But it puts the new guy on the spot’ cause all the attention is on that new person and they’re already uncomfortable. Our group decided we’re going to dispense with that and we have and it’s worked out really well. We just decided instead that we just want to make people feel comfortable there, that’s all.
24:31 Chad: Well, it’s hard enough just to get them there.
24:32 John: Yeah! Once they’re there and they can feel comfortable, give them a cup of coffee, say hello. Make them part of the group.
24:38 Chad: Well and I think that… And I don’t know if this comes out as a treatment or any or whatever but this idea that, you go to a meeting to share and get things off your chest and that’s what makes you feel better, in my opinion, that’s not what it is, at all. That’s maybe good at some point, if you have a sponsor, whatever, a good friend to get some things off your chest but the meeting itself, in my opinion is to go there, relate and then if you decide “Hey, what you guys are talking about, I want to try to do too. How did you guys do it?” and surrender is a funny thing. It’s not just something you just… Hey, there’s no surrender gauge.
25:15 Chad: I heard a speaker say one time, there’s nothing at the door that when you walk in it says, “Okay I’m this much surrendered, it’s time, there’s no way of knowing what it’s going to take for someone to surrender. Everybody’s different” and back to your point about making somebody feel comfortable, if you can just get that guy come in to the meeting every week, maybe he doesn’t share, maybe he just comes and listens, the girl or whoever and pretty soon, one day after the meeting, they might come up to you and go yeah, I really liked what you had to say there and what did you guys do there? And it just kind of can work out that way, I think.
25:47 John: Yeah! I think so too. Just let things just happen naturally, over time. People become, they feel comfortable in the group they make friends, that’s what I see happening, they make friends and they might get a sponsor, they might work steps and all without having pressure being put on them to get a sponsor or pressure being put on them to get the steps. You also mentioned something about language and I learned that after I discovered the whole agnostic AA meetings, I never really stopped to think about the language that we use because I’m like you. I came in young. I was going to AA meetings for 25 years, I went to the same group and it was a group that was really entrenched in the big book and they weren’t bad guys or anything at all but they were very much doing things the way that they’ve always been done and that was just all I knew as the only language I knew was the language of the Big Book.
26:54 John: When I realized I was an atheist and I was trying to figure out what to do about AA, I went online and I connected with other people who were non-believers and that’s when I learned that oh, it is language. It’s just that I have a different way of describing my experience but we basically are going through the same thing and I am totally okay with that but early on, it seemed to me that well, for sure, my home group wasn’t accepting of my new outlook and I didn’t feel comfortable at other groups but that was probably only because I had that long experience being one way and then abruptly changing and that was a hard break for me, it was really hard to assimilate I guess or to somehow balance that with the old group.
27:55 John: So I don’t really go to traditional meetings or regular meetings anymore. Although during this pandemic, I’ve been to a couple which I really enjoyed. I went to one; a St. Louis speaker meeting a bunch of people St. Louis. I really liked that and I went to a meeting of… It was called Oldie-pa which is really interesting, they were former young people in AA, who are now old.
28:18 Chad: Oh, okay, yeah, yeah, yeah, that is good.
28:21 John: Oldie-pa.
28:22 Chad: Oldie-pa, I like that.
28:23 John: Yeah, that was kind of cool. So there’s a bunch of people like me basically, they came in their 20s and now they’re in their 50s or it’s like oh wow, yeah.
28:29 Chad: Well and see and it’s interesting you bring that up because to me, I’ve gone to a few younger people meetings that I went to before and there’s this whole group of guys that are… I’m in my 40s and when the guys came around, there’s a whole group of guys that I know that are in their 40s and they’ve been sober 20 some years, whatever and I think sometimes they forget but I was out there drinking for five years with this head full of AA and I was very guilty of doing this, sometimes I’m 10, 11, 12, years sober I’m in my 30s, you get kind of arrogant sometimes. You think to yourself a guy comes in and he’s struggling and he’s a couple of days sober and I’d kind of be like wow, just go to meetings, what are you doing? Whatever! And it’s just like it completely changed my viewpoint of that after drinking for five years. I don’t… And now I see somebody coming in and they’re struggling, I’m a little more like no, I understand that and so it’s a funny dynamic that with the younger people like I said, coming in younger and having that and then there’s another group above that, that of guys that I know and host this made me…
29:41 Chad: This had me thinking about what you’re talking about with your home group is when you started to have those other viewpoints, that’s threatening to them because when you believe a certain way and all of a sudden, hey I’ve based my whole life on this way of thinking and now you’re saying, no, no, no, that’s threatening and that can be…
30:01 John: And I had to frustrate some of them too who knew me for decades being one John and then all of a sudden this new character comes by talking about oh, I don’t need God actually, really, I don’t.
30:13 Chad: And I don’t know. I’m going to guess your experience was similar to mine. Once you’ve sort of accepted that belief in that way of life, it was a freeing thing, very freeing…
30:21 John: Yes, I was happy, very happy with it.
30:23 Chad: I felt like that was being me.
30:24 John: Yep, yep, yep.
30:25 Chad: I felt very fake sometimes when I’d be sitting in meetings those last couple of years and be like God, I just don’t think this way, I don’t believe in this but I better because, otherwise, who knows.
30:35 John: Right, right.
30:35 Chad: There’s something freeing about that for sure.
30:37 John: Now, I remember when I first started having those thoughts and I was reading books like, God Is Not Great by Christopher Hitchens and Richard Dawkins book oh well, all those books and I was afraid to let anybody know I was reading those books, I wouldn’t tell anybody. What are you reading?
30:55 Chad: Yeah, no, no, no. No and I… People in my life, I’ve mentioned that I think that way and it’s always funny like the ones… It is interesting to me who reacts and who doesn’t and you find out real quick where you stand with some people and now I’m the kind of person today too though I don’t just go out and when I maybe I meet someone lay out everything in my beliefs right in front of them. I kind of feel them out, you kind of see where people are and there’s just still… And it’s getting better I think but there’s this attitude towards atheism or for sure, those beliefs and I hope it keeps continuing to go. It seems like it is and again I’m not anti…
31:37 John: People can be shocked too, people can be shocked and I was. I experienced some of the shock. Okay, the first time I heard somebody in AA dismiss the steps openly I… What the hell?
31:51 Chad: Yeah, yeah, yeah, yeah.
31:52 John: And I get it now, I’m very… I do like the steps, they’re important to me, they’re part of who I am and how I operate but I’m much more… I’m not so rigid about them and I understand them mostly as an expression of an experience for first, definitely the first three are just an experience. It’s not necessarily something that I could manufacture and then the inventory of course, is something I do and making amends is something that I do but and then there’s an experience that comes from that but so much of the rest of it is just from the experience that I had.
32:30 Chad: Yeah.
32:31 John: That’s it.
32:32 Chad: Well and I was really… I look at it now and I think I was really fortunate to be around this one particular gentleman that I mentioned this Don early on because he used to talk about the steps kind of like what you said they’re very simple. They’re not… You used to hear… I hear people talk about oh God, I’ve been on this step for a week and I’m like, what? What do you mean? Well, you can’t… Step one in my opinion, you can’t just sit down if you can do it.
32:56 John: Well, you can’t.
32:57 Chad: You can’t. It’s like you said, it’s an experience.
32:58 John: Right. You have it or not.
33:00 Chad: Exactly. This last time through, I took step one in my shower. I got to a point where I’m like I knew I couldn’t drink and I knew I could not drink and it freaked me out and so, yeah. So I think they’re very simple. I think they’re good tools as well. I’m not anti-step at all. I did steps…
33:19 John: Now, you can apply those two different things. You can take that first step.
33:22 Chad: Exactly.
33:22 John: You can use what you learned from the experience and apply it to other problems in your life. Like for example, I’m having a problem at work. First step, admit that I have a problem at work. Come to think that there’s something I can do about the problem and make a decision to do that and then, the whole process and stuff. It’s not that, just because step one isn’t something that I could actually “work or do” doesn’t mean that I couldn’t learn from it.
33:55 Chad: Right, right and I think, when it comes to the steps and again, I’m sure you’ve had this experience as well, I look at it as just another tool that I could use to help me along this journey. I think the initial surrender, you come and once you fully admit to yourself, “Okay abstinence is the only way I can do this. I can’t. There’s no in-between.” and then I fully concede to my innermost self that I am powerless. I can’t drink anymore. I can’t do it.
34:20 Chad: And what I feel, for me, what you decide to do from there, is your deal. I tend to lean more towards some AA stuff because I like hearing that. I like hearing people talk about it. I like the people because I relate to them more but again, I don’t ever want to… And this is where sometimes I think you get into this AA exclusivity. I don’t know a better way to say it. We’re like the separate entities like the normies or whatever. I don’t like stuff like that. I’m just a person just like anybody else. I happen to have this thing in my brain that when I drink alcohol, I can’t seem to stop but other than that, I want to be like everybody else. I don’t want to be this separate society, you know what I mean?
35:05 John: Right, I know. I was talking to Angel about that. One of our Friday streams that, when I was first getting involved, when I was first getting sober, the term that was used was earth people. So in other words, the earth people were the non-alcoholics and it was always… The person always talks about it, in some kind of a comical way, how strangely unique we are from the rest of the society. We’re like from outer space or something and these earth people that are walking around, they just can’t possibly understand us because…
35:39 Chad: No, not at all.
35:40 John: We are so different.
35:41 Chad: Yeah, they don’t get sad or depressed or whatever.
35:44 John: Right, right.
35:45 Chad: They don’t have anxiety or… When I get into my story sometimes too, when I talk, I don’t usually get too crazy on what I was like before I drink. I know that’s kind of the thing. That is what I was like before I drink or whatever and yeah, I will say yeah, definitely we share a lot of the same characteristics anxiety, depression but there’s plenty of people out there that have anxiety and depression that are just as bad as us, except the one difference is, when they take a drink, it doesn’t do anything for them. So I try to… I don’t get too crazy on that type of stuff. I guess, for me, I stick with that physical part like abstinence, I can’t drink and I have to know that in my head that I can’t.
36:31 John: Yeah and that truly is, I think, what people will relate to the most, because everybody feels… Everybody has different experiences from their drinking as far as what kind of trouble they get into and so forth and people have different psychological problems and so forth, emotional problems, whatever, different backgrounds and everything but the one common denominator is what alcohol does to us physically. When I understood that, that was very comforting for me to know that. I guess, I always deeply understood that but when I really admitted it, I was okay with it, I guess or accepted it and saw that other people have the same experience with alcohol, that did make a big difference for me.
37:21 Chad: Yeah and there’s always certain keywords or key phrases when somebody is sharing about their drinking, that I can go “Oh, yeah, yeah, yeah, yeah. Oh yeah, I relate to that, yeah.” And the feelings too, I mean definitely but I just think we have to be careful. This has been said, over and over and many people say this but getting into more how drinking affects us when we’re sharing with new people, as opposed to “That guy was in jail. This guy did that. This guy did this.” There has to be that… Something to get to the meat of something yeah about how you’re feeling.
37:54 Chad: And that’s why, again, going back to my very first home group, I just think that that was… For me, again, it was my first meeting. I think I’ll always feel this way. It’s just keeping it very simple of, “Hey, this is what we used to be like. Here’s what happened and here’s what it’s like now and here’s what we did.”
38:07 John: So when you guys said that, at that meeting, did the rest of the group also share after the speaker or was it just like the person?
38:15 Chad: Yeah so no. Yeah, so what we typically do, again, it was probably 25 to 30 people back in the day. So it was kind of understood and again, this is where I’d never been to a traditional meeting or another type of meeting before, so I thought maybe this is how they all work. The understanding was that, the sort of members of the group that had been maybe coming for a while, that maybe we’re doing some things or whatever, they would be the ones we would pick on to share for that meeting, four to five.
38:41 Chad: And then, the new people, they would be there and they would listen or whatever and then, maybe after a couple of months, if they were coming regularly and we felt like, “Hey, not that we thought. Oh they’re doing good. We should let them share.” But more of if they were com… And if they wanted, they would be comfortable but the whole idea was, the meeting itself wasn’t what was keeping them sober, it was the commitment and the other thing that we did, it was almost like… And this, I look at it now, me looking back on it now, just committing to going to that meeting every week, in my mind, was my admission of being an alcoholic. It’s like “I’m going to this meeting every week because I’m an alcoholic.” We actually even took it a step further. We always met an hour before and had some camaraderie and stuff before which was really good too. I enjoyed it.
39:25 John: That was so important to me early on and a little lesson that I learned from this pandemic was when you’re talking about how those of us who’ve been sober for a while, can sometimes forget about what people are actually going through who are just getting sober. Man, I did not fully appreciate just how impactful this social isolation was to newcomers, to people who are like within their first year of sobriety, how really hard it was on them and I don’t know why I didn’t get that because when I think about it, man I needed these meetings so so bad. That first year or two especially and I don’t know how I would have reacted if I couldn’t have had that meeting to go to and I would go to the couple meetings sometimes a day because I just… That was the only place I felt comfortable.
40:22 John: So I’m sitting here with 30 some years of sobriety and I’m saying, “Oh yeah, this is not a big deal. I got Zoom, I got this and that.” But these poor… Goddamn, it’s hard on these people because…
40:33 Chad: Oh, man and when I came back in after the five years, I remember sitting in some of those first few meetings and just sitting there thinking to myself and I’d hear somebody share and there was this particular meeting that I went to in the beginning. It was like a clubhouse style meeting and I’d always sort of been down on clubhouse meetings when I was in a clubhouse, whatever but this time completely different view point. I just went in there to listen and I’d hear somebody that said they had four days and they were struggling and that just hit home with me because now I’m like holy cow, I get it now and that relating thing really helped me.
41:09 Chad: And so again, going back to that thought process of, when you’re new, when we kind of started the conversation of making somebody feel comfortable. I think that’s so important and I just, especially here where I live, go to some meetings once in a while and I just when something happens, I’m just like God! I hope that guy comes back or I hope that girl comes back but you never know. Maybe… I can’t… I always try to remain open and try to think things happen and the way they go, I don’t know everything. Not just… My biggest thing today is just try to remain teachable and open. That’s what I try to do. I spent a lot of years not being open and teaching at all and in AA as well.
41:52 John: Well, making people feel comfortable is probably the most important thing that I can do. I find myself now not… I probably talk less in meetings now than I did when I was newer and I think it’s appropriate because I don’t… It’s been so long ago and there’s a lot of people in our meeting, in our group now who are within the first few years of their sobriety and probably some of them weren’t even born when I was drinking and so, I don’t know, I just feel like, I feel like it’s really difficult for me to reach back to decades ago to this experience and have it relatable to people now. So I just… It’s not like I’m totally quiet or anything but I listen more, I try to be supportive.
42:46 John: I will share some of my story when it’s applicable, I guess but for the most part, it almost feels silly for me to talk about something that happened 30 years ago.
42:56 Chad: Yeah, yeah. Absolutely.
42:57 John: You know what I’m saying?
42:58 Chad: And I don’t think too as far as the sharing and meetings and stuff, it’s like I don’t think… I like listening to a good entertaining speaker as much as the next one. I look at it more… I mean, sometimes I’ll hear something somebody says and I’ll think “oh yeah” you know but I heard a speaker say one time that nobody ever got sober on profanity. It’s usually just, for me, I could say in the beginning, it was going to this meeting every week, getting hooked up with a couple of guys my age and just realizing that, I probably shouldn’t drink anymore.
43:28 Chad: I did the steps, I had a sponsor, I did that stuff but it was more just that acceptance of a new behavior and a new way that I had to be.
43:36 John: Yeah. That’s what did it for me too.
43:37 Chad: And I’m such a…
43:38 John: Meeting people. Like that. When I was… I went to my very… My first meeting was a mixed group and they were super nice, they were very laid back, it was like nobody gave me a hard time about God or The Big Book or anything. They said “Just don’t drink, go to meetings, come back.” They were so nice to me but someone suggested I go to this, check out this other group which was a men’s group and I thought that’s kind of weird but I went anyway and what was good about it was that there were a lot of guys my age, in their 20s. So after the meeting, we would run around together and do things and it wasn’t like we were just always talking about AA, we were just having fun. We were just having fun enjoying being together and so forth.
44:21 John: But the meeting itself was really kind of rigid about The Big Book and all this kind of crap but after the meeting, we just went out and had fun and I think it was that experience of just hanging out with these guys and having fun and having people in my life that I could relate to and have, that is really what made the difference for me. So the other group, everybody was much older than me and maybe… And so it was good for me in that sense to be around people my age.
44:48 Chad: Yeah, 100%. I think I heard somebody say one time is if you’re new, get a buddy, buddies stay sober. I moved in with a guy right away and we were great roommates and he ended up being the best man at my wedding and it was weird because… I guess it goes back to, it’s the simple things. It’s once I’ve made it a decision that I can’t drink anymore… Again, you can do the steps, you could pray, you can do all those types of things. There are good things, they’re great tools but when you just want to constantly just drive it in like this is the only way and this is the way it’s gotta be. I just think sometimes a traditional meeting, sort of shoot themselves in the foot, that’s… I’m not against any of that stuff at all but to remain open, I think is the key.
45:34 John: Yeah, they gotta have a little bit of flexibility. Gotta kind of… Especially, I think, when it comes to people who are coming to AA for the first time and aren’t familiar with all of the social aspects of AA, the jargon and everything like that is to kind of appreciate where that person’s coming from and at least speak their language. To make them feel comfortable and not do all the AA jargon on them right upfront in the beginning.
46:01 Chad: Yeah, right, right. Just, being nice, shaking a hand whatever, how you doing, we’re glad you’re here.
46:06 John: Yeah. Well, it’s been nice to talk to you. I’m so glad that we had this time together to share our stories with each other and to whoever might be listening to this podcast. Like I say, this is, I feel really honored to be able to do this. It’s been since 2015 that I’ve been podcasting and prior to that, I never thought I would do something like this and when we started AA Beyond Belief, I decided I would do a podcast to go along with it and it’s just turned out just to be the best experience of my life and has really… Talking to people like you and other people from around the world has really changed me. Every person I’ve talked to, their stories stick in my mind in a way that I would have never experienced before.
47:00 Chad: Well, you get to come across all walks of life and the thing I think is cool is when we started the podcast and you were talking about that gentleman I forgot his name…
47:10 John: John. John H.
47:11 Chad: Yeah and the fact that you even say, “Oh I can disagree with him,” and you guys can have a… And the funny part was when I was listening to the podcast, you guys were getting along very happily about it.
47:18 John: Oh yeah.
47:21 Chad: It’s but And that’s so refreshing to see, especially in this day and age when you see what’s going on in the world that you can… I can sit with someone like that and that’s really great and just on a personal note, I love the podcast because I drive around all day so it’s like your podcast is in my rotation and I listen to it with a few different ones and it’s cool that you’re able to do that and you really do a great job of it. You have different people on and it’s cool. So that’s one of the main reasons I reached out to you. I’m like god… The way when you talk and stuff, you sound a lot like how I think the way I’d do.
47:51 John: Yeah.
47:52 Chad: It’s pretty cool, so I really enjoy it.
47:54 John: Yeah, well thanks, thank you, Chad, I appreciate it. So I’m going to go ahead and play our outgoing music.
48:03 John: And that’s it. That’s another episode of AA Beyond Belief. Thank you for listening. I haven’t asked for money for a while but I do want to remind you that if you would like to contribute to our website and podcast, you can do so. You can go to PayPal.Me/AABeyondBelief or just to our website and click on the donate button.
48:24 John: We also have a Patreon page that you can go to, Patreon.com/AABeyondBelief. We don’t have a lot of patrons but if you just give a dollar or two a month, it really does help out, it adds up for… It adds up, it sort of helps out. So if you would like to do that, please do but don’t feel compelled.
48:41 John: Thank you very much for listening and thank you Chad for visiting and participating in the podcast. It was really great talking to you.
48:47 Chad: You too.
How You Can Support the Site and Podcast
Consider Supporting AA Beyond Belief with a small monthly contribution. This helps pay for podcast transcripts, hosting fees and other costs associated with creating content on the site and podcast. Even a dollar or two a month helps out a great deal.
AA Beyond Belief is a 501(c)(3) nonprofit corporation.