Episode 174: Sharing Our Stories

In this episode Angela and I discuss our experiences speaking at AA meetings and offer tips and suggestions that you may find helpful when speaking at other groups. We talk about the importance of knowing your audience, staying on time and on track, and formats other than the standard “what it was like, what happened, and what it’s like now.” We also cover how to record your talk and why that may be important. This was recorded during our weekly live stream on YouTube and features listeners calling into the show as well as comments from the YouTube chatroom.

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Transcript

0:00:00 John: AA Beyond Belief is a podcast by, for, and about people who have found a secular path to sobriety in Alcoholics Anonymous.

[music]

0:00:26 John: Hello, and welcome to another Friday night live stream. I am in my happy place right now. I have a microphone in front of me, and I’m speaking with my friend, Angela. And today is gonna be light and easy. It’s just gonna be a little discussion about talks that we’ve given in AA, our experiences doing that, some… Maybe some tips and suggestions, different things along those lines. And I’ve certainly had some embarrassing moments, speaking in Alcoholics Anonymous, and I’ve had some successes as well. But it would be fun to hear your experiences that you’ve had when you’ve gone out to speak because crazy things happen in AA, as we all know.

0:01:11 Angela: Yes. Yes. Definitely. I did wanna address some serious thing before we get started. So, next week, I’ve chatted, our friend, Willow, hopefully, will be able to join us because I think we should do a topic on having difficult conversations in recovery. So AA says that it has no opinion on outside issues, which… That’s fine. But, right now, I can say personally, for me, that I’m having difficulty in wrapping my mind around and working with my own complicity in systemic racial inequality. And that I’m finding that, rather than processing my own guilt, which I define as that if you have some choices, I didn’t make a great one. And so I need to process how I can do better next time. But I’m being hijacked by shame, from shame. And shame is more of the, “I’m an awful human being, it’s in my DNA.” And so then I can’t move on to looking at things when I’m hijacked by shame. And so… Yeah.

0:02:30 Angela: So I think that some of us that are looking at this and processing it would like to have a conversation about how we’re doing that in our recovery, because I’m seeing some people get really frozen and too afraid to look at some of these things or have difficult conversations with their families and friends because they’re afraid that the shame will cause them to drink. And so how do we, as people who are recovered or have some sobriety, work with really difficult conversations in recovery. So… Yeah. So that’s what I would like to do next week. But this week, I’m excited about talking about stories, ’cause that’s an important thing within AA. And the other thing is too, I just realized how that sounded, but stories is how we relate to each other. I think it’s the real secret sauce in AA, ’cause some people are like, “Well, it’s the meetings.” Well, without people sharing their stories and their experience, we wouldn’t meet with them. We’d just all look at each other, or whatever. It’s the story that helps us connect to another alcoholic or another person in recovery. So… Yeah.

0:04:01 John: That’s… No, I agree, the stories are everything to me, and it wasn’t always that way. There was a time when I hated speaker meetings, but now, they’re my favorite type of meeting, actually. And I think the difficult conversations will be a really good podcast. We have a problem in AA too, when it comes to race. We’ve got, what is it, like 2% of the population in Alcoholics Anonymous is African-American. And that’s, compared to what, is 18% of the population is African-American. And it’s actually a lower percentage in AA than it is in NA. And there’s something about AA that is an obstacle there, I think, and it’s something that’s worth looking at. And I have certainly seen examples of racism in Alcoholics Anonymous, and blatant racism, so, yeah, this is a good time to talk about that. And Friday, which would be Juneteenth, is a good day to do that.

0:05:05 Angela: Yeah.

0:05:06 John: Thinking about what we’re talking about today, is sharing our stories, our personal stories, and this, at AA meetings, speaker meetings, etcetera. And…

0:05:18 Angela: Yeah. And I think somebody in the Facebook group had made some comment, I don’t quite recall what it was, but about experience, strength and hope.

0:05:28 John: Oh, yeah.

0:05:29 Angela: And I read it as they didn’t want us to say that. But yeah, my thing is, one, don’t boss me [laughter] And two, I do somewhat agree because when I was first asked to share at a speaker meeting, I was terrified of… Like “How do you do that?” I’ve seen other people do that, but there’s not directions on how to do that. And people would say, “Just be yourself,” which is not a good advice for me, because I’m just a weirdo. But share your experience, strength and hope, and that’s still even pretty general. It’s like, “Well, how do I do that? What does that mean?” So, yeah, several people have asked me, over the last few years, how to do it. And we can talk in a little bit about my thoughts on setting up a little outline to help you stay on task, and such, if that’s your goal, is to share your experience, strength and hope, or something.

0:06:39 John: Yeah. He mentioned that he doesn’t think that we need to stick to that formula of what it was like, what happened and what it’s like now, and he’s right, that’s an easy thing to fall back on because it’s a nice little easy formula, so if you haven’t really prepared anything or don’t know what you’re trying to talk about, that’s always a good way to go. But heck, yesterday, I spoke at the Beyond Belief group at their Zoom meeting, and what I did with that is I wanted to share something about… Something that I’ve learned recently, and recently, I got the certification for SMART Recovery, and while I was doing that, like with everything, I was kinda making fun of myself, really, but with every kind of recovery program that’s out there, I always compare it to AA. I always see AA in it. I see the 12 steps in everything. And at SMART Recovery, I could see the damn 12 steps in their program. And so I was talking about that. I was going through their four points, and then I was talking about how I could relate to those as an AA person, and it was kind of a different take on things. But sometimes I’ll do something like that to… Just to get away from the standard formula, but there’s nothing wrong with the… What it was like, what happened, and what it’s like now.

0:07:58 Angela: Right, and people can look at it at different ways, there’s no right way to share your story, but I think a lot of us would admit that we’ve been to some speaker meetings where we’re like, okay, that’s 45 minutes of my life I’m never gonna get back. And well, I don’t even agree with you shouldn’t share drunkalogues, or anything like that, ’cause some of those things are interesting. But for the whole format, that’s not very helpful, so that’s why I kind of do it a general outline, when I’m speaking, to be able to stay on task, because otherwise, I don’t know that I’m doing what I’m there for. Why am I there? If it’s to share and help somebody, hopefully not feel as alone, or to see that, yeah, there’s someone in recovery who has a similar experience, then trying to stay on some sort of a thing on what I did and why did I do it? Why am I even in AA? [chuckle] So… Yeah, so I do have somewhat of an outline of staying on, yeah, task, ’cause otherwise, you guys, who listen to this, know that… Well, I’m gonna bring you into this too, John, that both John and I can get off on tangents really easily and [chuckle] so… Yeah.

0:09:32 Angela: Unfortunately, with this podcast, we can then get back on task next week, if we need to, or fix another… Find another date to talk about something, but in a speaker meeting, that’s not the case, so having something that will remind me to stay on task of sharing my experience, strength and hope, of sharing what it was like, what happened, and what it’s like now, gives the full story of my experience thus far. And I remember, when I was new, that I liked the speaker meetings because it gave the full story, that you could see, somebody would identify and… Or as I think they used to say it, qualify, the beginnings part of it, what it was like, the qualifying, tell us what kinda drinker they were like. Were they a partier? Were they literally drinking in their closets? [chuckle]

0:10:28 John: Right.

0:10:29 Angela: That kind of stuff. I don’t think that you have to say how much you drank or for how long. I don’t think any of that’s important. I think that getting into what happened to you when you drink is really the important part of what people are relating to. So… Yeah, so I try to do that and… So that people have an idea of what my drinking was like, and then I usually go into… Well, let’s hear what you do first, or what’s worked for you.

0:11:10 John: Well, one thing I was thinking about, Angela, when you was talking about having a little outline, that is really smart. One thing you should not do though is write out like a six-page speech and read it to the audience.

0:11:22 Angela: Right. Right. [chuckle]

0:11:22 John: I did that once. I did that at the Live and Let Live Group shortly after I came out publicly in AA as an atheist, and it was basically an atheist manifesto of revolution. [laughter] And there was a guy that actually walked out on me, and I really do not blame him at all, that was a really, really bad talk. But if I would have had just a little outline, that would have been kind of natural. Joe says my talk was a hit. That Joe was such a nice guy, but of course, now, would he say if it wasn’t? Would he tell me I bombed?

[laughter]

0:11:53 Angela: No, probably not. Probably not.

0:11:54 John: I’ll take it. Thank you, Joe. It was a lot of fun. I really enjoyed it. It was a nice group. It was a lot of fun. You know that group, Toronto Beyond Belief group, I’ve been to an actual meeting there in Toronto, back when we had the convention there, and that was a lot of fun. It was great to see everybody. And now they’re having these Zoom meetings, and their Zoom meetings are real popular, so they get people from all over the world going to their Zoom meetings to where it’s like not even the Toronto meeting anymore. So now they’re actually having little meetings on their own so that the group can kinda get together, and now they’re having… And they also, at the same time, had these greater meetings where people from all over come. And it’s gonna be… I’m sure that those Zoom meetings are gonna stick around even after this pandemic. And it’s really cool that he would invite someone to come and speak at that meeting, that was a good idea, and I think I’m gonna do that for the Kansas City… Suggest it for our Kansas City group too. But, yeah, a little outline is good, just don’t write a manifesto unless you’re… [chuckle]

0:12:53 Angela: Right, right. Yeah. Yeah. No, not very helpful. [laughter]

0:12:57 John: Yeah. I would also say watch your time.

0:13:00 Angela: Yes.

0:13:00 John: One of the more embarrassing moments that I ever had, I was probably sober not even six months, maybe… I don’t know, maybe a little bit more than that. I don’t know. And I went to speak somewhere with people who had decades of sobriety. And I was the first to speak. And for whatever damn reason, I decided to tell my entire life story, from the time I was born up to that moment. And I took up every… I took up all the time. The other people had no chance to talk. I couldn’t believe it. I was so embarrassed. But then what was really funny though, I didn’t even know it, but out in the audience was a neighbor of mine, and she didn’t know I was in AA, and she heard my entire life story, and it was kind of… But it was kind of cool because she was there with her daughter who was having a hard time. It turns out that I became friends with them and was kind of helping her daughter along a little bit. So it was kind of funny how that worked out, but, yes, it was very embarrassing when the people with all the sobriety didn’t get a chance to talk while the newcomer was blabbing away. [laughter]

0:14:07 Angela: Right, right. Yeah. Kinda like in a meeting where you recognize milestones and the person with 30 days has all the answers to recovery.

0:14:21 John: Right.

0:14:21 Angela: And… Yeah, and the person with 20 years has two minutes. And it makes me laugh.

0:14:30 John: But I will say, though, what’s funny now is I’m lucky if I can speak for 15 minutes. [laughter]

0:14:37 Angela: The way that I do it is I use the middle section of my talk, ’cause I do divide it into three, so that I’m, again, staying on task of what my goal is, as doing the steps, as how I do the steps, and that’s what I find people, both in secular recovery and, really, outside secular recovery find interesting and helpful. So, on the AA Beyond Believe website, the talk that I gave there was not to a secular group and it was not to a group that even is one that I would attend on a regular basis. It was for a group where it was mostly what we refer to in Idaho as green cards, people who are assigned to go to AA by the court. So over half the people there were only there to get their card signed, and then the other were a lot of people that are the All Stars of that kind of meeting. They’ve got two or three years sobriety, and so they know what’s happening. So it definitely was not a group that would normally identify with an atheist in recovery, and yet it went really well.

0:16:04 John: Yeah. They were pretty receptive?

0:16:05 Angela: Yeah. They were receptive. And that’s another reason why I kind of try to get a little plan in place of what I’m going to say so that I can make sure that I’m addressing all the points in recovery that are universal, and then show how me doing the secular steps is really not that different.

0:16:33 John: Yeah, that’s right. That’s what was so cool about that talk.

0:16:34 Angela: We’re trying to give it some of the same things. Yeah.

0:16:37 John: You did a good job with that.

0:16:38 Angela: Thanks.

0:16:38 John: You were very respectful. And that’s the thing, is you gotta know your audience when it comes to… If you’re gonna speak as an atheist and you’re at a traditional meeting or a secular, whatever, it’s… Like what you did is just kind of have some understanding that some of the most innocent things that, to us, to say, could be shocking to someone else to hear.

[chuckle]

0:17:00 John: And so I also try to find some common ground too, because there is a lot of common ground, probably more so than not. We have way more in common with each other than not.

0:17:10 Angela: Right.

0:17:11 John: I honestly think our experience is pretty much identical with a believer’s. It’s just the way that we express it, that’s the only thing that’s different, I think, in my opinion.

0:17:20 Angela: Yeah.

0:17:20 John: And a lot of people, they’ve never heard that before. I did something similar, I spoke at the Liberty Group for their Alcathon a couple of years ago, and I think it was probably the first time that that group ever had someone that was an atheist speak. And it went just great. I talked about how I work my program as a secular person, and talked a little bit about our group, and so forth, and yeah, it was great. And it was a good time. And I got to meet some nice people there.

0:17:49 Angela: Very cool. Yeah. Yeah, one of the things I try to get in there, and I don’t remember if I did on that one, but when I speak to traditional audiences, [chuckle] people, members, is what it felt like in the meetings. So what are the things that were difficult for me, but share them in a respectful way. [chuckle]

0:18:14 John: Yeah.

0:18:15 Angela: And then what are the things that were helpful? What did… So, for me, people coming up to me after the meeting and sharing that their higher power is this or their higher power is something on their dashboard, or whatever, I’ve heard all sorts of crazy things. But what was important in that is that they did care enough to come and share with me that not everybody is the same, not everybody does the God thing. And even those that do the God thing don’t all do it the same.

0:18:49 John: Exactly.

0:18:49 Angela: And so it was some of those little pieces that helped me… I don’t know if it helped me feel included, but it helped keep that voice in the back of my head that’s like, “You do not fit in here. You’re not gonna be able to stay sober in AA because you’re an atheist, blah, blah, blah.” It helped keep that at bay for a while as I was working the steps.

0:19:09 John: Yeah.

0:19:10 Angela: And so I try to share stuff like that so that people who may be all in on the traditional will have an idea of what might be helpful to a newcomer that walks in, rather than just telling them, “Get a book, get a sponsor, get God and shut up.” That kind of thing. [chuckle]

0:19:29 John: So have you ever had an experience where it didn’t work out so well?

0:19:34 Angela: No, I don’t… I don’t think in the… In the meetings here.

0:19:39 John: You haven’t read your manifesto to anybody?

0:19:42 Angela: Yes. No, I didn’t… I mean… Well, in the beginning, I was very outspoken and, at times, rude, but, yeah, the community here has been fine with it.

0:19:56 John: Really? [chuckle]

0:19:57 Angela: They joke. On my sobriety anniversary, I try to hit the meetings that I attended most in my early recovery, that I may not attend now, and… Yeah. And I hear stories of… That I was very angry, and that… Yeah. Somebody suggested a higher power, the doorknob, and I just went off. And it does make it funnier that it was in a church. But, yeah, expletives, everything, and on the higher power doorknob thing. So…

0:20:31 John: I like that about your story. It’s so different than me because you came in from the beginning, “I’m not buying this BS,” where I was like, “Oh, okay. I guess… Whatever. I may as well try to try that.” [chuckle]

0:20:43 Angela: Right. Yeah. No, I mean, I was… I was down and… Down and out. But I think there was part of me that was really challenging them, like, “Can you help me?” Because I’m an atheist, and that’s not gonna change. There’s very little that I could think of that would cause me to change my beliefs because, at one time, I was gonna be a minister. So I have studied…

0:21:08 John: That’s right.

0:21:09 Angela: Religion and theory and history. And so… Yeah. So I really didn’t know if AA would be able to help me. And… Yeah. And so, the anger, I think some of them took it as a challenge.

0:21:25 John: What is Tommy’s comment there? You see Tommy’s comment?

0:21:27 Angela: Let’s see.

0:21:28 John: He says, “It’s funny, because I never worried that I couldn’t stay sober because I was an atheist. I just didn’t think I’d be welcomed.” That was my experience. But it took me 25 years before I came out as an atheist, and I was totally comfortable with it. Oh, I said, “Oh, yeah, I get this. This is easy to… My sobriety is based upon what I do, is very practical. Blah, blah, blah. The steps, I just cross this stuff out, I’m fine.” But I really wasn’t welcomed to say that kind of stuff, or at least I didn’t feel that way.

0:21:57 Angela: Yeah.

0:21:57 John: It was not…

0:21:58 Angela: Yeah.

0:22:00 John: It was kind of a difficult time for me.

0:22:00 Angela: No, I don’t know if… If it’s… It was that I didn’t think that I could get sober as an atheist. I think it’s get sober in AA as an atheist because there wasn’t anything else in my area. And I tried. I looked. I looked for ‘Save Our Selves’, I looked for ‘Rational Recovery’, yeah, and I didn’t have any of that stuff.

0:22:26 John: So tell me this, going back to speaking, have you ever spoken somewhere before and you had people in the audience that were kind of distracting you? They were like rolling their eyes or they were… [chuckle]

0:22:40 Angela: Yeah. Yeah. No, I don’t… I don’t think that I have. I think the one that’s recorded, that you have up on the website, would be the closest, because people are looking at their phones, and doing stuff, and going in and out because they don’t actually want to be there.

0:23:00 John: Right.

0:23:00 Angela: And so… Yeah. So there was some of that. But I knew that that wasn’t about me, and I kept my sights on people who were paying attention, and the person who asked me to come and speak in the first place. And so, that kept me… It kept me on track. And I knew that their stuff really wasn’t about me at all, and so, again, I tried to keep on, “What am I doing here? What’s the purpose of me being here?” And that helps me to stay on track.

0:23:33 John: Yeah, you can’t let it beat… You can’t let it distract you, ’cause sometimes you’ll see an expression, and you’ll think it’s… I’ll think it’s about me, that the guy is… And it’s usually not. But I’ve had a lot of experiences that were kind of bizarre. I mean, one time I was speaking, and somebody threw up. That was not… That kind of disrupted the talk a bit. Yeah.

0:23:52 Angela: Oh my gosh. Wow.

0:23:54 John: And then the Paseo group, which I love, and I speak there every Christmas for their Alcathon, and one time… The first time, I think, I spoke there, it was like 4 o’clock in the morning, some early oddball time, and there was just two people in the room, and one guy left. [chuckle] And then it was just me and one guy. But you know what I did with that one? I recorded it and turned it into a podcast.

0:24:15 Angela: Nice.

0:24:17 John: But one of the people in our chatroom, she said that it would drive… It would make her very nervous to record her talk. And I can understand that. But if you can get over that, I think it’s… I think it’s really helpful. I like to have a library of secular AA speakers, and to build that up because there are so many talks out there. Go to YouTube and look up AA speaker, and you find all kinds of Joe and Charlies and Bill and Bobs, and so forth.

0:24:43 Angela: Right.

0:24:43 John: But very few atheists. But we’re starting to build that library up, and I would love to see more of it. So if people could record their stories and then send it to AA Beyond Belief, we’ll put it on our YouTube channel. And it just makes it… Makes it available. Which is… Which I like. But it’s not for everybody. Not everybody feels comfortable recording their story, and that’s fine. But if you are, I think it’s a good idea.

0:25:06 Angela: Yeah. And that’s the biggest thing that I’ve got from having mine on your website, is that it’s the first time that some people have heard of an atheist doing steps in AA.

0:25:25 John: Right.

0:25:27 Angela: And some of them have felt similarly to what I share I felt, and stuff, but it’s renewed their hope of staying sober either in AA, or just kind of reinvigorated the program for them, because I phrase things in a different way, and so that helps them to be able to think in a different way. So kind of like with you and SMART Recovery, that you look at it and you see different parts of AA in it. But it’s framed in a different way and so now it gives you the ability to help other people who are looking to recover or who have substance abuse issues or use issues, and now, you have multiple things you can do to help them, different ways of phrasing things, and… And so I think that’s really important. And that’s the main reason why I did it. I can tell you that, when you published it, I was horrified. When it first came out, I seriously was. I listened to it and all I could hear were the ums and my stammering, and all of that stuff. And it was… Yeah, it took a lot for me to not ask you to take it down because I was so embarrassed.

0:26:44 John: That’s a very popular recording. We got a lot of comments from that. But you know, I’m learning, this is kind of nerdy talk about editing podcast, but at one time, I used to delete every single um and ah. Sometimes I will now but, especially in a talk, it gives it more of a dramatic effect, it gives it more of a realistic feel, I guess. So I try to leave them in, so that’s why you had so many ums and ahs [laughter] Also, it takes forever to delete them all.

0:27:18 Angela: Right. Yeah.

0:27:20 John: It’s funny how people talk though. People do talk in ums and ahs a lot. It’s just part of the language.

0:27:22 Angela: We do, yeah. And so I don’t hear it when other people talk as much, but when I try to listen to myself, I… It doesn’t work very well because I concentrate on those things, so I just… Now, just put stuff out there and somebody gets something out of it, great, and if they don’t, then that’s okay too. So, yeah, but that’s kind of how I generally do that. I do kind of an outline. I do take some framework of experience, strength and hope, or what it used to be like, what happened and what it’s like now, and then I try to break it up with what happened. I try to make that kind of the larger section, because that’s what most people are interested in hearing, at least, for me, is how to do the steps in a secular way, or how I did the steps in a secular way and was able to stay sober without God. And then I say at the end, what it’s like now is… What’s my quality of life like now.

0:28:34 John: Yeah.

0:28:36 Angela: And what’s changed, and what’s important to me now…

0:28:41 John: And you probably have more of that now than you used to. This is kind of like Priya’s pointing out here, she says that she leaves more time in her discussion for questions. She cuts her drunkalogue to five minutes of the talk. And I’m finding myself doing the same thing because, for me, if I tell my story today, I feel like I’m talking about ancient history, and it just feels weird to me to do that. And when you remember something that happened like 30 years ago, you start to wonder is that really the way it was? [laughter] So I just prefer to keep it… Keep most of it like within the actual time that we’re living in, because I was a different person back then. And, yes, I think that that was my story. I’m sure I…

[laughter]

0:29:31 Angela: No, I do think it’s important to do a little bit in the fight again, they called it qualifying, but I remember, for me, that I would see people get up and they would often be dressed reasonably well, here in Boise, I don’t know that there were any that were suit up, show up kind of things. I only learned about that from Joe last year, I think, that they literally put suits on. But they look good, they have their stuff together, and so, without them sharing at least part of what brought them to AA, I don’t know that I’d identify with them. And so, that was helpful to me, to see that they had a life similar to mine or to how I was feeling, all of that kind of stuff, and then they did something, and then their life is more of what they want it to be now. And so, I needed the full thing. And so that’s how I thought the speaker meetings were often more helpful than some of the individual meetings because I’d only get a five-minute thing from somebody, and often it was how they do it now, and usually giving it over to God. And so it was more helpful to me to go to the speaker and see the full experience.

0:30:52 Angela: And then I felt like, okay, maybe I can do this because I could see that this person did have some similarities. I don’t know that I’ve heard anybody else talk about peeing their pants in public at 2:00 AM in downtown Boise and then rolling in sprinklers to try to make it look like I passed out, instead of… That I peed my pants. But people talking about, yeah, crashing on people’s couches and things like that, I could relate to, and it was important in order for me to take the rest of it seriously. Otherwise, it just looked like upstanding citizens that were improving their life, which was great. Everyone should do that.

0:31:35 John: I’ve opened the phones, by the way, so if you’d like to call in and share your experience with speaking or tips that you might have, embarrassing moments, funny moments you may have had… One thing I wanted to mention, James is from north of Boston. He said that AA is loaded with speaker meetings and he likes those over other types. I like AA in New England. I got to know some people outside of Boston and Southern Massachusetts who explained to me what the AA culture was like there, and this is back in the 1990s. And they were really big on I think they called them commitments. I’m not sure. But what they would do is groups of them would go to another town, because in New England, all these towns are pretty close together. It’s not like in Idaho, where you have to drive forever or Missouri, or something. But you got all these little towns all over the place, and they’d all get together, and they’d go.

0:32:28 John: And that was a big part of their meetings, was doing that kind of thing. And I think that’s kinda cool. I really like the meetings in New England. I don’t know if they’re still the way they are now, as they were in the 90s, but back in the 90s, they used to be like… The meetings up there were an hour and a half also, and they’d always have little breaks. So, anyway, I like New England, I like the meetings up there. So, when James wrote that, it just kinda reminded me of my visit up there in the 1990s, and how much I enjoyed that. Oh, we got a caller. See who this is.

0:33:03 Angela: Alright.

0:33:06 John: Hello, how are you?

0:33:09 Cathy: Very well. This is Cathy in Missouri.

0:33:11 John: Oh, Cathy.

0:33:12 Cathy: This is my second time calling again.

0:33:14 John: How about that?

0:33:15 Cathy: Hi.

0:33:15 John: How are you?

0:33:16 Angela: Hi, Cathy.

[laughter]

0:33:17 Cathy: Very well. Hi, Angela. I just need to jog my memory from something when you mentioned the… Charlie and Bill and Bob… The tape, and all that, and it’s that I so much enjoy and appreciate when you could… Women speakers on the podcast or… So, anyway, that I like hearing more women.

0:33:43 John: Yeah, and there’s a shortage of it, for sure. Isn’t there?

0:33:48 Cathy: Well, I don’t think there’s a shortage of women…

0:33:51 John: No. [laughter]

0:33:52 Cathy: That there’s a shortage of women today. [laughter]

[laughter]

0:33:57 John: You’re right about that.

0:33:57 Cathy: There’s plenty of women around.

[laughter]

0:33:58 John: You’re right about that.

0:34:00 Cathy: And when I share my story, it’s different at a women’s meeting than in here…

0:34:06 Angela: Yeah.

0:34:06 Cathy: For a mixed meeting.

0:34:08 John: Interesting.

0:34:09 Cathy: So… And so that you know your audience.

0:34:11 John: Yes. Yes. I think that’s really important, to know your audience.

0:34:14 Cathy: Speak to your audience.

0:34:15 John: Yes. Yes.

0:34:16 Angela: Right.

0:34:16 John: Yeah, you’re gonna speak different if your…

0:34:18 Cathy: So, that’s really all.

0:34:19 John: Yeah, yeah. Well, thank you, Cathy.

0:34:21 Angela: Yeah. Thank you.

0:34:22 Cathy: Yeah, and that’s really all. I’m enjoying listening to you, and really didn’t want… Mean to interrupt your flow.

0:34:28 John: Oh, never interruption. That’s what this is for.

0:34:30 Cathy: I don’t get to say that enough, that I love it when we hear from women or just different people. So…

0:34:37 John: Yeah.

0:34:38 Cathy: Thank you.

0:34:39 John: Yeah. Thank you, Cathy.

0:34:39 Angela: Thanks, Cathy.

0:34:40 John: Yeah, I like to have a variety to… She reminded me of something, and now I forgot what she reminded me of, but that’s okay. I might think of it later but…

0:34:51 Angela: Yeah. One thing we should mention is that there are apps that you can download to your phone to record your story, so you don’t have to speak at a speaker meeting that has the big mic up front, or anything like that. If that’s just something… But yeah, so, for me, I use an Android, and so I went to Google Play and downloaded the app, Easy Voice Recorder, and there’s a free version and a pro version, of course. I had used the free version for the one that is on the website, and so it worked just fine. With the pro version, you can, I guess, set some editing-type things or other stuff, but I know, from the version I used, that it was really simple, really easy, that I could do some noise suppression because I knew it was gonna be a speaker meeting, and so I knew there would be background noise and stuff. And it’s pretty easy. And I believe… Who was it that used their iPhone to record their story?

0:36:03 John: Was that John? John H?

0:36:04 Angela: Yeah, John. Yeah.

0:36:06 John: And the quality was excellent.

0:36:07 Angela: Right. Yeah. So I’d recommend that to anybody who would like to share, and particularly women or people of color or black people, or any of that, that that’s one way that you can do it, is by downloading those apps.

0:36:27 Cathy: And the technology is just amazing. And I, of course, was fearful of it, but now, for work, I have to do things that I wouldn’t do before.

0:36:37 Angela: Right.

0:36:37 Cathy: And once you do it a couple of times, it’s not that hard. [laughter]

0:36:41 Angela: Right. Yeah.

0:36:44 Cathy: Alright, I’m gonna get off of here.

0:36:45 John: Alright, Cathy.

0:36:45 Cathy: Thank you. Alright.

0:36:45 John: Thanks for calling. Nice to talk to you again.

0:36:46 Angela: Cool.

0:36:48 Cathy: Bye bye.

0:36:50 Angela: I’m looking forward to hearing Cathy’s story, so hope you get that recorded this week, Cathy, so I can hear it.

0:36:57 John: If anybody’s in Santa Barbara, California, when are they gonna start meeting in person again? I don’t know. I don’t know when we’re gonna meet in person here in Kansas City. It might be a very long time, very long time.

0:37:07 Angela: Yeah, I know that there are meetings in Boise that are meeting in person now. I don’t attend to any of those meetings, and it’s not something that I’ll be doing in the near future.

0:37:20 John: Yeah.

0:37:20 Angela: Possibly, depending on how this month goes, I might be up for small groups in people’s yard, a small group setting and stuff, but…

0:37:32 John: Yeah, our freethinker’s group is starting to do that. They’re meeting at the park, at one of our parks here outside, and they’re gonna wear a mask, and keep their social distance, and so forth. And I’m not gonna join them, I’m afraid, but…

0:37:45 Angela: Yeah.

0:37:45 John: They’re doing that. I’m still not comfortable doing it.

0:37:49 Angela: Right. Yeah.

0:37:49 John: Being out there like that, but…

0:37:52 Angela: Right. Yeah. So, but in our plan, that’s… They’re okay to do that now, and so… So that’s happening. And so, they do exist, but for our personal group, we meet at the Unitarian Fellowship and they’re very much into the science, and so they’re not opening it up for groups right now. So… Yeah. So we’ll wait on them. And then I’m guessing our group will probably divide into those who feel that they’re comfortable doing that, and then those who are gonna stick with the online. And we are planning, at least at this point, to continue our Thursday meeting as an online meeting so that people have that option, who have found us, and don’t have a secular meeting near them.

0:38:46 John: And speaking of… Speaking of speaker meetings… Speaking of meeting at speaker meetings, when James made his comment, he reminded me of when I was new to AA, back in the late 80s, early 90s. We had, in Kansas City, more speaker meetings than we have now. We have hardly any now, but back then, we had like one meeting that was just huge, where you’d have over a 100 people, which is big for us, in a meeting. And it was held on Sundays in the morning, and it was held at a hotel, and people used to actually dress up nice to go to the meeting, and then you would go socialize afterwards. It was kind of a big deal. So people from all the different groups would get together in that one place to go to that speaker meaning. And then there was another popular meeting where it was just kind of like a little social event. You go to the meeting then you have coffee and cookies afterwards. It was really nice, but we don’t have very many of those left anymore. Now you have a few groups who will invite someone over to speak, but not like we used to have, and I do kind of miss that. That was kind of a nice way just to get to meet people from other groups even.

0:40:00 Angela: Yeah. It sounds kind of like the Fight Club version of [laughter] 12-step meetings, where there’s a bunch of different groups and one area divided into smaller groups for discussion.

0:40:12 John: But you know one of those speaker meetings it was like one of the oldest meetings in Kansas City. It started back in the 40s and it was strictly a speaker meeting and it no longer meets, which is really sad, but it was like, for whatever reason, they lost their appeal. So I don’t know. As society changes, our world changes, at least it did around here. I was gonna ask you, Angela, we were talking about the format, about the traditional format, what happened, what it’s like, that format. So what other kind of formats would you suggest? ‘Cause I’ve got some ideas. I wonder if you have any.

0:40:56 Angela: I don’t ’cause most people who have asked me about it, they’re new to… It’s their first time. Yeah. And so I try to give them something that will help them put their nerves at ease, and that if they are nervous when they’re up there, and get flustered, that they can go back to pretty easily. So I guess, if you’re asked to speak at a specific kind of meeting, then you would rephrase or do a different kind of format. So I was really hoping, if the Detroit thing had happened, which I guess they’re doing an online thing now, or whatever, but I was really hoping that I’d be asked to speak on a third step panel, so on some sort of panel that has nothing to do with secular, or agnostic, or whatever, and then share my experience of how I work the third step. And so that would be a different format and a different way of sharing my story.

0:42:04 John: Yeah, that’s what I’m talking about. Yeah, that’s what I do too now. I’m doing a lot more of that now.

0:42:08 Angela: Or if it’s at a conference, and they have a certain theme, or something, I imagine I would think about that and pick stories or experiences regarding that theme.

0:42:22 John: See, I just started doing that over the last couple of years. I’ve started, instead of just doing the traditional my story of what it was like, what happened, and what it’s like now… I wonder what John H. Thinks about… Anyway, so I started doing other things like what you just said, like talking about a step. And a couple of years ago, maybe a year ago, whenever, I was really interested in step six and seven. And I learned a lot about those steps, so when I’d go to meetings, I would share about those steps. I would talk about those steps and what I learned. Or I’d talk about what I learned from a conversation I had with somebody and how they enlightened me about some aspect of recovery that I hadn’t ever thought of before. Those types of things I’m speaking about a little bit more. And then what’s always interesting is if you are some place where someone doesn’t know about a secular person in AA, just speaking about your experiences just as a secular person is interesting. So, yeah, those are some things I’m doing.

0:43:24 Angela: Just last week. Was it last week? I think it was last week, I actually spoke at a women’s meeting that usually meets in New York, and it was on step six because it’s June. And so, for those of you who are not familiar with traditional AA, a lot of these step groups do the steps and have a step meeting every month at least, and it’s whatever the number of the month is, is the corresponding step they’re thinking of or looking at. So, yeah… So I was asked to speak on one that was on step six. And so, yeah, so that’s what I talked about, was how I think of step six, and how that differs from maybe how some other people think of it. And for me, mainly it’s that I don’t ask anything to take character defects away from me because I don’t consider anything character defects. I consider it resources or traits, and I need them all. You never know when you might need them.

0:44:25 John: Those are actually really good steps for secular people to talk about. Oh, Hatchi, by the way, Hatchi B, I think that’s how you pronounce Hatchi, he was asking what John H thinks about what’s going on in DC. And I don’t know, but I will ask him, and I know… I could have him on a podcast and he can talk for an entire hour about what he thinks about what’s going on in DC [laughter] So he has an opinion, I guarantee you that.

0:44:51 Angela: Definitely, no shortage of them. And they’re interesting to listen to. And that’s what I like about this… The AA Beyond Belief is that I do hear these different opinions and I can take a little here and there, the whole ‘take what you like and leave the rest’ stuff, because all of them have something within them that I find interesting or that I can consider later, or sometimes it’s an example of how I don’t want to be. So… Yeah. But, yeah, we could definitely do that.

0:45:31 John: Listening… Actually listening to people, since I’ve reached out and met other atheists, agnostics, freethinkers in Alcoholics Anonymous, and since I started listening to them, it’s amazing how much I have grown over the last five years, Angela, and how what used to shock the hell out of me no longer does.

0:45:53 Angela: Name something.

0:45:55 John: Oh, the first time, I couldn’t believe what I heard. Somebody… And Hatchi’s gonna get a kick out of this, but somebody was criticizing the steps. I thought, “What? What? What are you doing? I can’t believe that. You’re saying something bad about the steps?”

0:46:09 Angela: Right.

0:46:10 John: I couldn’t believe what I was hearing. “What do you mean you don’t work the steps?” And now I’m like totally relaxed about it. So, yeah, I don’t work… I hardly work them myself sometimes.

[laughter]

0:46:20 Angela: Right. Right. There’s so many options now. Yeah.

0:46:24 John: Oh, hatch. It’s pronounced hatch. That’s how the Brits pronounce the letter H. I did not know that. I didn’t ever knew that. I would love to go to England, but right now, they won’t let Americans travel anywhere. In fact, I don’t think they will let British people travel anywhere either.

0:46:38 Angela: Yeah. Yeah, I think it’s probably wise for the world to not let Americans travel.

[laughter]

0:46:45 John: Yeah. It’s funny, my wife and I, we were actually planning on going to London, I think, this year, and we were really excited about it, and of course, that’s not gonna happen. One of these days, we’ll make it.

0:46:56 Angela: Yeah, that would definitely be cool. I haven’t been there either.

0:47:00 John: Again, the phones are open. If you wanna call, you can. It’s 8-1… What is our number? It was 844-899-8278. So please do call. Let us know what you think about speaking. Oh, yeah, something else I was gonna say. This is kind of an interesting thing. We were talking about when I was new, and how I am now, how I would have more to say back then, and so forth. I’ll tell you the very first time I ever spoke anywhere, and I was new, and I went to a treatment center with an old-timer, he was probably sober about 10, 15 years, whatever, it was just pretty old for me that time. And I was nervous as hell. And I thought, “I don’t really… What am I gonna say? I’m barely sober myself.” And he actually… He said, “You know what, John? They’re gonna relate to you a hell lot more than they are me because you’re a lot closer to it.” And you know, I think he was right. And I still find that that’s true, that the people that are most recent in their recovery sometimes can reach the newcomer, new people a little bit better than someone who’s been sober for 20 or 30 years, where it’s just really even hard to even imagine. I remember, when I was just within a month or two sober, and someone told me that they were sober for a year or five years or 10 years or 20 years, I couldn’t even fathom that. It’s like… I felt like… I thought that like, “Oh man, they must not have any problems ever in their life.”

[laughter]

0:48:28 Angela: Right. Definitely.

0:48:28 John: And I find out later, no, you still have problems, unfortunately. Oh, we have another caller. Great. Let’s see who this is. Hello. Hello?

0:48:44 Robert: Hello.

0:48:44 John: Hi, how are you?

0:48:45 Robert: Not too bad. How about you?

0:48:49 John: Who is this?

0:48:51 Robert: Robert.

0:48:52 John: Oh, hi, Robert. What’s up?

0:48:54 Robert: Not too bad. Not too bad. I just wanted to say hi to you guys and thank you for, basically, your service for what’s on the… YouTube.

0:49:03 John: Thank you. Where are you from, Robert?

0:49:05 Angela: Yeah.

0:49:07 Robert: Santa Barbara.

0:49:11 John: From wherever?

0:49:11 Angela: No, Santa Barbara.

0:49:14 John: Oh, Santa Barbara! I’m sorry.

0:49:14 Robert: Santa Barbara, in California.

0:49:14 John: Oh, you’re the one that was asking about the meetings and when thy are going to meet again in Santa Barbara.

0:49:20 Robert: Yeah. Yeah.

0:49:22 John: Yeah. Boy, I tell you.

0:49:25 Angela: Yeah, it might be good to post it in the Facebook group if you’re a part of that, I can’t tell right now, because there might be somebody in there who has a better idea of what’s going on in that area, and might be able to meet up with you or get some direction, that kind of a thing.

0:49:44 John: So do you miss the… You obviously must miss the face-to-face meetings.

0:49:51 Robert: I’m sorry. I didn’t catch that.

0:49:53 John: You must miss the face-to-face meetings. Are you having a difficult time with the…

0:49:58 Robert: A little bit.

0:49:58 John: Yeah. Yeah. It gets old after a while.

0:50:01 Robert: Correct, crazy hectic right now.

0:50:05 John: Yeah. Yeah. No, I know…

0:50:07 Robert: But we’re still getting by.

0:50:09 John: It’s like…

0:50:09 Angela: Good.

0:50:09 John: It’s weird when all of your interactions with people is through a screen, like for me, anyway, I’m working from home, so all of my people that I work with, they’re all on a computer screen. And then, when I end work, I shut down that computer, I put on my home computer, and then all the people I’m interacting with are on a screen. And I always ask my wife if she would please communicate me through Zoom, if she could go to another room. No, no. She’s not going, “We never actually get to talk face-to-face anymore.” So… [laughter] Anyway, it’ll happen sooner or later, but I don’t know, man, I hope it happens sooner rather than later, ’cause it is difficult for a lot of people right now, for sure, I can understand.

0:50:54 Robert: Yeah. Do you have any advice on maybe getting… I’ve a sponsor right now. He’s a sponsor, a Christian. Obviously, it’d be a little bit difficult. I’ve already gone through the steps, 10, 11, 12, the norm, but… And I’ve done everything, basically, based off of… I’ve used the step work on YouTube. So, any idea maybe of getting a sponsor that might be local, in the Santa Barbara area, that’s secular, agnostic, or whatnot.

0:51:43 Angela: Yeah, I do know that they have some meetings. I don’t know how close they are because I’m in Idaho, and so close to me is driving to Salt Lake for a concert, or something, which is five hours away. So I don’t know what close would mean for you. But you can check on the secular AA website. That’s where I’d go first just to see if there are any that are within a distance that you’re willing to drive to. And then, when they do open, definitely try to check one of those out because even if it’s a meeting that you’re not gonna go to regularly, ’cause it’s too far, if you drive to it and talk to some people after the meeting there, then that might be a way for you to connect with somebody who is secular and who might meet you halfway at a coffee shop or something to do a sponsorship kind of situation, but that’s the direction that I would go. And then for right now, again, I would use AA Beyond Belief as a way to try to connect to people that are somewhat close to you. And maybe if there isn’t a meeting where you’re at, you guys can start one, ’cause I know there are several meetings that have started up on Zoom because that’s where we need to meet right now, but are planning to become physical meetings as soon as they can. And so, it was a way… Partly a way for them to be able to connect with each other in a quicker timeframe, and… Yeah, so those are a couple of my ideas. Do you have any thoughts, John?

0:53:24 John: I think those are good suggestions, you could always ask around on Facebook, I suppose, but, yeah, it’s a… Right now, you’re gonna have to meet somebody online, but one thing I was thinking though is there are people out there that they don’t necessarily have to be an atheist, agnostic or even secular person. You could have a person who’s religious, who is totally accepting of your path. There are… I’ve met a lot of people, actually, who are atheist but have Christian sponsors, and vice versa, as a matter of fact.

0:53:54 Angela: Right.

0:53:54 John: It might be rare, but I wouldn’t just limit yourself to insisting that the person also has to share your worldview, because sometimes you could have different worldviews but have a respect for each other’s view.

0:54:06 Angela: Yeah. Yeah. So, if you don’t have secular meetings, just kind of listen for what people are saying in their shares, and if you can zoom in on… Well, not zoom, but if you can see that they don’t ever share about God in any of their shares, whether that’s the topic or not, then that might be a person that would be helpful to you.

0:54:33 John: Yeah, I think those are good suggestions.

0:54:35 Robert: Yeah, I appreciate it.

0:54:35 John: Alright. Well, thank you for calling, Robert. Thank you very much. It was nice to hear from you.

0:54:40 Robert: Yeah, thank you.

0:54:41 John: Take it easy. Boy, this hour has really gone by fast. We only have another six minutes.

0:54:47 Angela: Yeah, anybody else wanna call in?

0:54:49 John: Yeah, go ahead and call in, if you’d like to. I think we covered the topic pretty well though. We… You talked about recording the stories and how easy it is. Those iPhones, or other kind of phones, they work really, really well. It’s amazing. I have some fancy digital recorders, and they don’t do that much better, if better at all, than the iPhones. John H’s talk, the quality was excellent.

0:55:17 Angela: Yeah, and mine, you can hear all of the ums and stammering, as we said.

[laughter]

0:55:22 John: Yeah.

0:55:22 Angela: So that’s pretty good.

0:55:23 John: Yeah, but those programs on there are pretty easy. It’s just so easy to use, and all you have to do is put your phone down there, and it’s no big deal, but I really do like…

0:55:33 Angela: I think it would be helpful for people if you do…

0:55:36 John: It is.

0:55:36 Angela: You never know who will hear it…

0:55:39 John: Yeah.

0:55:39 Angela: And it’ll be just what they need either that day or in general to…

0:55:45 John: Not long ago, not long ago, you couldn’t find a talk anywhere on the internet from a secular person, they were very hard to find, and now they’re not so hard to find, so we’re building that library up, and that’s one thing I like. So I like to see that library build up so that we can put our voice out there to the world, that we can show that there is a secular path to sobriety within AA. I like that, but also for archival purposes, because what we’re doing today is gonna be history tomorrow, and recording what we’re doing today is preserving that history, so sometimes we don’t often think about ourselves as doing anything that might… That anyone’s gonna care about in the future, but when you think about what we’re going through, AA, during a pandemic, going online, being an atheist, starting… Having these atheist AA conferences or whatever secular AA conferences, and all this kind of stuff. This is kinda new. It’s kinda interesting, so it’s good to have our… And a variety of experiences. That’s the coolest thing, in my opinion, about the secular people in AA, they’re not… They don’t walk lots… That there’s a huge variety of people. Even amongst the people who’d identify as atheist, the way that they experience the program…

0:57:03 Angela: Right, yes. Are… The angry atheists, we come in all varieties.

0:57:09 John: We really do.

0:57:09 Angela: Sometimes we’re angry at the AA program.

0:57:11 John: Oh, I know.

0:57:11 Angela: Sometimes we’re angry at the God thing. Sometimes we’re angry at GSO. And most of the time we’re angry at each other, but not… [chuckle] It’s funny.

0:57:24 John: Barry L… [chuckle] I’m sorry, Angela, this Facebook user, I don’t know who it is, but he posted about he could only find one Barry L speaker tape. Josie at Rebellion Dogs Radio had… I found this talk that Joe posted, that Barry gave, at I think it was the Montreal AA conference that was held in Montreal, and Barry was talking about the tradition… The third tradition, I think it is, ‘The only requirement for membership is the desire to stop drinking’. And he was talking about how that tradition came to be, and he was reading from it from the 12 and 12. The 12 and 12 version was really sanitized from what… From how that actually occurred, why that tradition actually came about, and it was just really fascinating. I’ll try to find that talk on Joe’s website, and post it there, ’cause I don’t know if you’ve ever heard that before.

0:58:22 Angela: I have not, and that would be interesting.

0:58:23 John: It’s really, really good. It’s amazing. It’s really, really good. Yeah, and he has some talks of Barry’s too. Yeah, I’d like to hear that. I wonder if Barry was a non-believer. I don’t really know. I don’t know. Anyway, not that important really.

0:58:39 Angela: Right.

0:58:40 John: So… Well, any final thoughts to wrap things up, Angela?

0:58:44 Angela: No, other than I would love it if people would record their story, even if it’s at their house right now, and send them to you so that you can post them because I think we need more diversity, and it’s important for helping other people so that they can have some hope, they can hear one person who may have a similar story or who may be able to phrase their recovery in such a way that they can relate to. And I think we all need… Need to have some hope, and to be able to relate to people right now. I know there’s a lot of people struggling. And, yeah… So if you’ll do it, I would totally love that. And it’s pretty easy to do. And if anyone is interested and they still are not sure how to phrase things, or something like that, feel free to contact us and John… Yeah, you can pass the email on to me. And I’ll be happy to help you or give you some tips or work with you in some way so that that is easier. Because it’s definitely needed. People need to hear your secular experience, regardless of if you’re agnostic or atheist or a pagan, or any of that. We need it all. And so, yeah, so I’m happy to help in that way.

1:00:22 John: And next week, we’re gonna have Willow on, and we’re gonna talk about having difficult conversations. That gonna be interesting, having a… It’s gonna be a difficult conversation, just having a difficult conversation.

1:00:31 Angela: Yes. Yes, it is.

1:00:33 John: And we got some podcasts I need to put out. I fell a little bit behind, but there’s some really interesting podcasts that I have recorded, that I need to put out. First of all, I need to polish up the last two live streams and put those out as audio podcast. And then I recorded a podcast with a friend of mine here in Kansas City who’s a comedian and has been sober for almost 40 years, or whatever, it was really a very nice talk that we had. And then what was really fun, Sam, from Lawrence, and I, we read the book ‘Dr. Jekyll and Mr. Hyde’, and then we had a conversation about it, relating it to alcoholism, and Sam did an amazing job.

1:01:16 Angela: Nice.

1:01:18 John: She has a degree in history… Not history. Well, history, but she has a degree in English, and she just did such a great job dissecting that book, and explaining. And it was just really… It was really a fun conversation, so I’m looking forward to posting that out.

1:01:32 Angela: Yeah, then I’ll be able to listen too.

1:01:34 John: Yeah, and it was nice to read a classic too. I was so inspired by doing that, I actually ordered some Hemingway from Amazon. ‘Cause I never really read much Ernest Hemingway, and so I may as well.

1:01:45 Angela: Maybe people can put in the Facebook group which of Hemingway we should read, because he lived in Idaho, and I would love to read that with you.

1:01:57 John: I didn’t even know that.

1:01:57 Angela: So… Yeah. Yeah.

1:02:00 John: Yeah, I was looking for other alcohol-related novels, and I know that Hemingway was quite a drinker, so I thought that maybe he wrote something about drinking. And I think there might be some out there, and I tried to order one. I can’t remember which one it was, where there was a lot of drinking. I think he wrote a book that… I can’t remember the title right now, but I’ve ordered it. And it’s a composite of different characters, and they all have drinking in common, I think. Anyway, I don’t know.

[chuckle]

1:02:30 Angela: Right.

1:02:30 John: Oh, well. Okay, this is it. I didn’t press the right button? There we go. I did it.

[music]

1:02:37 John: Wow, thank you, everybody. Thank you, people who posted, Neal, and Robert for calling in, and Cathy for calling in, and Josie for your nice comments, and everybody. And thank you, Angela, once again, for spending this Friday evening with me chatting about things of interest to secular people and Alcoholics Anonymous.

1:03:03 Angela: Thanks, John.

1:03:04 John: Take care, everybody.


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