In this episode Angela and I talk about Tradition Three: The only requirement for AA membership is a desire to stop drinking.” We review the history of the tradition taken from a talk by Barry L., author of Living Sober, that he gave at the 1985 International AA Convention in Montreal. This is followed with a discussion about how we experience the tradition today.
This was recorded Live on YouTube on June 26, 2020. Every Friday, we have a live call in show on YouTube and Facebook. In this episode, sound quality from the caller is not very good and is difficult to make out. Otherwise, this was a fun episode and I thin you will enjoy listening.
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0:00:00 John: Hello. AA Beyond Belief is a podcast by, for, and about people who have found a secular path to sobriety in Alcoholics Anonymous.
0:00:26 John: I just realized I didn’t prepare any kind of an introduction for today’s topic. I hope that tonight goes well. I was chatting with Angela just before we went live here, and I’m like, “What is there to say about this tradition?” I hope that we can keep a conversation going, but I’m sure that we will. Something interesting that we might do today, there’s a couple of different ways to contact us other than just by phone. You can call us at our toll-free number of 844-899-8278, and I’ll put that number up, but also experimentally, I can put out some links that you can click on, and one of those will bring you to our StreamYard studio, where you can just be right here where we are. And so, if you have a microphone and ear plugs and so forth, that might be good. And then I have another link you can use to just go to another web interface for web calls. So anyway, completely nerdy stuff, but if you like to experiment with that, that might be kind of fun.
0:01:31 Angela: Gettin all fancy.
0:01:31 John: [laughter] Yeah, yeah. I always like any new and interesting little gadget, I like to play with them, so anyway. So today’s topic is gonna be about Tradition Three, and Tradition Three reads that the only requirement for AA membership is a desire to stop drinking. I read a little bit of the 12 and 12. I actually read the entire tradition of 12 and 12, it’s not that big long of a read, and what I got from it basically were three ideas that would be, you’re an AA member if you say so, you can declare yourself in, nobody can declare you out, and you’re an AA member the minute you declare yourself to be one, and it’s just quite that simple. I don’t know, Angela. What kind of preparation did you do for this episode?
0:02:21 Angela: Well, I went to the illustrated 12 traditions. You can find that on the AA.org, it was a pamphlet that came out in 1971, and it basically has all of the traditions and a little bit of why they’re there, where they came from, and it’s illustrated, so it has cartoons and stuff which made it…
0:02:47 John: Oh, that’s cool.
0:02:49 Angela: Yeah, much easier to digest. And so I looked at that and then I went to the pamphlet, conference-approved literature of “AA Tradition, How It Developed” by Bill W. Yeah, and I looked at what it had to say about that, and so if people don’t call in, I will be forced to have to read what they say about Tradition Three in this little pamphlet, which, it’s interesting, it’s okay, but I’d love to hear what other people have to say on it as well, and this came out in… The copyright is 1955, and this version, I think is 1983. So, anyway. So, yeah.
0:03:36 John: It’ll also be interesting to know some of the history behind it. In the 12 and 12, it just mentioned that early on that AA groups had a lot of different membership requirements. I guess that they were afraid that some people might join their group that would give them a bad name or something, and it would bring an end to the fellowship is what Bill wrote anyway in the 12 and 12. Now I’ve read Ernest Kurtz’s “Not God”, and I’m sure that he addressed Tradition Three in there somewhere, but I just don’t remember for the life of me and didn’t have time to go back and research it. But I did play the tape and we’ll play some excerpts of it during this episode from Barry L from a talk he gave at the International AA conference in 1985 that was held in Montreal, Canada. And in that, he does something really interesting, he talks about this tradition, reading it from the Big Book as Bill wrote it in the 1950s, and then playing a tape of Bill talking about the very same thing in 1968, and there’s a real huge difference between the two, which I found really, really interesting so we can play that as well. So, yeah. So anyway…
0:04:51 Angela: Do you want me to read this?
0:04:53 John: Yeah, go ahead.
0:04:55 Angela: Should we do AA Beyond Belief, conference-approved literature reading hour with John and Angela? Okay, I need to get a more authoritative voice going here, but [chuckle] on page 10 here it says, “Who is a member of Alcoholics Anonymous?” And this is 1946. It says, “Tradition Three grew out of this piece by Bill W in the AA Grapevine. The first edition of the book, Alcoholics Anonymous, makes this brief statement about membership, the only requirement for membership is an honest desire to stop drinking. We are not allied with any particular face, sect or denomination, nor do we oppose anyone. We simply wish to be helpful to those who are afflicted. This expressed our feelings as of 1939, the year our book was published. Since that day, all kinds of experiments with membership have been tried, the number of membership rules which have been made, and mostly broken, are legion. Two or three years ago, the general office asked groups to list their membership rules and send them in. After they arrived, we set them all down. They took a great many sheets of paper, a little reflection upon these many rules brought us to the astonishing conclusion, if all these edicts had been in force everywhere at once, it would have been practically impossible for any alcoholic to ever join Alcoholics Anonymous. About nine-tenths of our oldest and best members could never have got by.” How do you get to be a best member of Alcoholics Anonymous?
0:06:22 John: I know, exactly. [chuckle]
0:06:26 Angela: Hashtag goals. And it goes on, “In some cases, we would have been too discouraged by the demands made upon us. Most of the early members of AA would have been thrown out because they slipped too much, because their morals were too bad. Because they had mental as well as alcoholic difficulties, or, believe it or not, because they did not come from the so-called better classes of society. We oldsters could have been excluded for our failure to read the book, Alcoholics Anonymous, or the refusal of our sponsor to vouch for us as a candidate. And so on, ad infinitum.” He really likes that phrase, huh?
0:07:02 John: Yeah.
0:07:02 Angela: “The way our worthy alcoholics have sometimes tried to judge the less worthy is, as we look back on it, rather comical. Imagine, if you can, one alcoholic judging another.”
0:07:13 John: Right.
0:07:14 Angela: Yeah, and so… Go ahead.
0:07:16 John: He also mentioned I think in the 12 and 12, the ridiculous idea of people insisting on a pure alcoholic. And what I found when I read that, that was interesting to me, is I still kinda see people kinda talking that way sometimes. The biggest controversy that surrounds this tradition that I see… Well, there’s a couple. One is that people insist that if you have a drug problem, you can’t talk about it in meetings, and that’s one of the issues. And they don’t even want them to introduce themselves as drug addicts, that’s the one. And then, I’ve also seen issues with some secular groups who were accused of having outside affiliations, and therefore wouldn’t be listed. That they would see those groups as somewhat different than the LGBTQ groups, and so forth, for whatever reason.
0:08:10 John: And also, I’ve noticed that whenever I go to my area assembly when I’ve heard talk about this tradition, and a lot of times they bring out the long form of the tradition, and they try to kind of, I don’t know, make it contrary to what I think the tradition is meant to be. The tradition is meant to be as inclusive as possible. But when they read the long form of the tradition, it says, “Our membership ought to include all who suffer from alcoholism.” And people seem to make that… That’s when you might hear people every once in a while talk about how you need to be a real alcoholic, and you can’t have other problems. And I don’t think that they meant that when they wrote that. Whenever you hear Bill W talk about this tradition in any recording, he always talks about it from the perspective of making AA as inclusive as possible, and that it’s none of our business to ask somebody about their drinking or their… So that’s kind of frustrating when people always throw out that long form of the tradition, and try to use it as a way to narrow down who should be an AA member.
0:09:20 Angela: Oh yeah, definitely. I’ve been in meetings where they were closed meetings. And if somebody was new and said that they were addict, they would stop the meeting, and ask the person if they had an honest desire to stop drinking. And if they said no, they would ask them to leave the meeting.
0:09:37 John: Yeah.
0:09:37 Angela: So, yeah.
0:09:38 John: And that is so stupid. I thought about that too. I was guilty of this stupidity at one time. There was a guy who…
0:09:47 Angela: No way.
0:09:48 John: Yes. [chuckle] There was a guy… Someone came to our meeting and he introduced himself as just having an eating problem, an eating disorder, and he didn’t say anything about drinking or anything like that. And I think I said, “Well, do you have a desire to stop drinking?” And he said… It kinda threw him off, he was kinda confused. “I don’t know? Desire to stop drinking?” And it turns out, yes he did. He did have a desire, but he just didn’t put it in that kind of language. When I first showed up in AA if someone said, “Do you have a desire to stop drinking?” I’d say, “I don’t really wanna stop drinking, I really don’t. But I think I have to.” So now, I would never ask. That was the only time ever did that, by the way. But I would never do that again. Just, especially at that first meeting, just let the person… Just give them some space to figure out if they belong there or not. They’ll know for themselves. But I know one time…
0:10:43 Angela: Right. And if you share in an open way…
0:10:44 John: Yeah.
0:10:45 Angela: I mean, ’cause I’ve had people who were new to our meeting that would come up to me afterwards and say, “Well, actually, I don’t know that I have a drinking problem. I have this addiction and… But I can’t find help for that,” or whatever. And, yeah. And I let them know that they were welcome at our meeting, if they were trying to recover, in general. And that, yeah, they could share if they wanted, or not share if they wanted. And so, yeah. So some of them came for a little while, and got what they needed and left. But yeah, a lot of people I don’t think share out loud about if that’s the main reason they’re there. I’m sure before that, I had several other things before alcohol. I tried lots of stuff. And so, does that make me a true alcoholic? [chuckle] I would dare anybody in my area to ask me that, but they haven’t. So lucky for them.
0:11:48 John: Well, you know what I think is so nice about that tradition? This is actually one of the traditions that I read at my first meeting, and it made me feel comfortable that I belong there. Because one of the things that I struggled with, from the time I was 19 years old to the time I was 25, I struggled with that word, “Alcoholic.” And could not seem to identify with that, being an alcoholic. Because I just had it in my mind that that was somebody who had advanced liver disease, was in their 50s or 60s, and was having all these other issues.
0:12:24 Angela: Which is really old, right?
0:12:25 John: Yeah, yeah. That’s right. I’m almost up there now. But yeah, I can actually be one now. [laughter]
0:12:32 Angela: And you better watch out.
0:12:32 John: But yeah, that time it was like ancient.
0:12:35 Angela: Right.
0:12:36 John: Anyway, that was in my mind and I thought, I’m not that. And I was really afraid that I would find out that I’m not an alcoholic and I couldn’t go to these meetings and I really needed to stop drinking. I didn’t know what else to do. But that first meeting took all that aside, I felt totally welcome there, and I saw that the only requirement was a desire to stop drinking, and I said, “Yes, I do have that. I do have a desire to stop drinking, and something needs to change.” So, yeah. That tradition was kind of a lifesaver for me, I guess. Anyway, but…
0:13:14 Angela: Well, do you wanna play some of the recording of…
0:13:15 John: Oh, yeah. Let’s do talk about that a little bit. I posted this in the Facebook group, Joe C from Rebellion Dogs Radio… Oh gosh, a few years ago, maybe four or five years ago, he posted something on his site that I ran across and discovered for the first time, and it just blew me away. What it was is Barry Leach who was the author of Living Sober, who got sober in 1945, was giving a talk in Montreal about the Third Tradition, and he read from the 12 and 12, and then he played a tape from Bill Wilson’s take on the Tradition, and they were a little bit different, and I found that quite interesting. So let’s just go ahead and play that. Let me call that up here and let’s see how this works. Hopefully, you can hear this okay. Here we go. This is Barry L talking about the Third Tradition in 1985.
0:14:13 Speaker 3: I wanna talk a little bit about our Third Tradition, and the way it got started, instead of talking about my drinking or any of those dull things. I’m going to read first from the book, 12 Steps and 12 Traditions, two or three lines, written by Bill and published in 1952. And you will hear this language that I’m going to read in just a few moments in another voice, and I think the next time you get to read the book, 12 Steps and 12 Traditions, you might hear this in a different way. “On the AA calendar it was year two. In that time nothing could be seen but two struggling, nameless groups of alcoholics trying to hold their faces up to the light. A newcomer appeared at one of the groups, knocked on the door and asked to be let in. He talked frankly with the group’s oldest member. He soon proved that his was a desperate case, and that above all he wanted to get well.
0:15:20 Speaker 3: “But,” he asked, “will you let me join your group? Since I am the victim of another addiction even worse stigmatized than alcoholism, you may not want me among you. Or will you?” There was the dilemma. What should the group do?” A few years ago, a friend of mine called me and said, “I just found a tape that might interest you.” He collects tapes, Ron. And he said, “This is a tape Bill made in 1968 at an open meeting. It was the opening night meeting of the General Service Conference and there were lots of guests there, so this was at an open meeting.” And he made his talk on all the Traditions, and I’m going to play just what he said about Tradition Three.
0:16:10 Speaker 4: At about year two of the Akron Group, a poor devil came to Dr. Bob in a grievous state. He could qualify as an alcoholic all right. And then he said, “Dr. Bob, I’ve got a real problem to tell you. I don’t know if I could join AA because I’m a sex deviate.” Well, that had to go out to the group conscience. You know. Up to then it was supposed that any society could say who was going to join it. And pretty soon the group conscience began to seethe and boil and it boiled over. And under no circumstances could we have such a coward and such a disgrace among us said these gentlemen. And you know, right then our destiny hung on a razor edge over this single case. In other words, would there be room that could exclude so called undesirability and that caused us in that time, and for quite a time with respecting this single case, to ponder what is the more important; the reputation that we shall have? What people should think? Or is it our character? And who are we considering our record?
0:18:05 Speaker 4: Alcoholism is quite as unlovely. Who are we to deny a man his opportunity, any man or a woman? And finally the day of resolution came. And a bunch were sitting in Dr. Bob’s living room arguing what to do. Where upon dear old Bob looked around and blandly said, “Isn’t it time, folks, to ask ourselves, what would the Master do in a situation like this? Would he turn this man away?” And that was the beginning of the AA tradition “That any man who has a drinking problem is a member of AA if he says so, not whether we say so.” Now I think that the import of this on the common welfare has already been stagnate because it takes in even more territory than the confines of our fellowship. It takes in the whole world of alcoholics. Their charter to freedom, to join AA is assured. Indeed, it was an act in general welfare.
0:19:54 John: Well, I thought that was interesting. What did you think of that, Angela?
0:19:57 Angela: Yeah, yeah, that was cool. It was different from what had been written before. So showing that Joe… Joe [chuckle] That Bill evolved some.
0:20:09 John: Yeah, yeah.
0:20:09 Angela: Although I couldn’t help but wonder if it was during his time using psychedelics as… [laughter]
0:20:15 John: Yeah, yeah. He was giving that talk in 1968. It is interesting that he felt when he wrote that in the 1950s. I guess it shouldn’t surprise me, of course, because homosexuality was absolutely stigmatized and it was just a completely different time than it is today. So he wouldn’t have felt comfortable telling the truth when he wrote that in the Twelve and Twelve. So he instead wrote it kinda… When I read it for the first…
0:20:47 Angela: In a general way.
0:20:48 John: Yeah, but when I read it in the first time, I assumed that the guy had a heroin addiction or something like that. But no, he was just real… When he wrote it in the Twelve and Twelve, he wasn’t very definitive at all about what the guy’s problem was, “Bree likes to hear the voice.” What I find interesting about the people back then is just the way they talked. It’s just like… They almost sound like Humphrey Bogart or something. It’s just, “What we’re… ” [chuckle] It’s just very dignified voices, so yeah, it was kinda interesting to hear, to hear that.
0:21:25 Angela: Yeah. Yeah, they didn’t just let anybody behind a microphone to put out a podcast or anything like that.
0:21:31 John: Yeah, no, the vernacular is kinda weird for us, a sexual deviant, of course that’s absolutely not… That’s ridiculous, but that’s the way that they saw it then. But they did, at that time… And this is another thing that’s really interesting, that that time that Barry was in AA in the ’70s is when the LGBTQ group started forming. And Barry went to Bill W and asked about that, ’cause there was a controversy at the time about whether or not gay groups should be listed. And ultimately, in another book that I read, what I heard was that somebody said, “Well, if we don’t let the gay people in, who’s gonna answer the phones at central office?” [chuckle] Because there were already so many of them in the program and were very active and actively involved. So anyway, so they were our predecessors for secular groups. They fought that fight and won their place, and it was not easy. And I have talked to friends who go to the gay group in Kansas City, and they have told me what it was like back in the ’80s when those groups were getting started, and it wasn’t easy for them at all.
0:22:54 Angela: Right, yeah, I could see that.
0:22:55 John: So I guess that’s part of Tradition Three too, that you can do your… As long as you’re not affiliated with some outside organization or something, you can do your own thing. I’mma go ahead and open the phones up for anybody who wants to call. There’s our number, it’s 844-899-8278. It’d be interesting to know if you’ve ever had an issue arise that’s related to this tradition, or if you have a take on it that might differ from whatever. “Joe out there… ” Oh, that was from this morning. So he made a comment in the morning. I rarely ever hear Joe use the f-bomb and he did on our Facebook group. Anyway, that’s fine. [laughter] So yeah… So anyway, that was kinda interesting, that difference between the two and that history, that this tradition really started from a gay person wanting to be a member of Alcoholics Anonymous, so yeah.
0:23:58 Angela: Well, I was looking at the illustrated guide again to this step, and one of the things that it says, “But, somebody may ask, isn’t this Tradition itself a rule? Does it state one requirement for membership? Let’s read it again and ask another question: Who determines whether or not newcomers qualify, whether they do want to stop drinking? Obviously nobody except the newcomers themselves. Everybody else simply has to take their word for it. In fact, they don’t even have to say it out aloud. And that’s fortunate for many of us who arrived at AA with only a half-hearted desire to stay sober. We are alive because the AA road stayed open to us.”
0:24:40 Angela: And then it does talk about the specialty groups a little bit. Let’s see, “The problem faced by this tradition isn’t just past AA history,” it keeps coming up. “For instance, when a group’s delegates… Or when a group debates whether to exclude alcoholics who have problems other than alcohol or have differing lifestyles, the tradition mentions no such additional requirements, no demand that prospective members must not have a history of drug abuse, a certain lifestyle, or an institutional background. All alcoholics are welcome. What about the group that seems to impose extra requirements beyond a desire to stop drinking? This might be a special interest group or a collection of groups in which, for example, each member must be a physician or a young person, a man, a woman, a priest or a law enforcement officer. By their own account, those attending special interest groups consider themselves AA members first. They attend general membership meetings as well as those that fill their individual needs and they remain devoted to AA’s primary purpose. These special interest groups offer only one instance of the diverse and inclusive membership within our fellowship. Our traditions allow unparalleled freedom, not only to every AA member but to every AA group.” So, there you go.
0:26:00 John: So I was at an interesting district meeting for the Many Paths group in Urbana, Illinois, and maybe I’m speaking out of turn to talk about it, but anyway, I’m gonna talk about it. So at this district meeting, the question was whether or not to list the Many Paths group on the district’s meeting directory. And the problem was that the district was accusing the Many Paths group of having an outside affiliation because they had their meeting listed on the secular AA website.
0:26:34 John: And it was just really interesting to watch the back and forth. The GSR from the Many Paths group was really good. He was very calm and very polite and he just did a very good job explaining what their group was about, why they are an AA group and why… What the secular AA website is and so forth. And try to explain that his secular group is just a special interest group like an LGBTQ group, and there’s a GALA site that lists gay groups and that are also listed in district websites and the secular AA website is just like that. Anyway, they didn’t buy it for whatever reason, I don’t know how that ultimately turned out, but… So what happened, the Many Paths just decided to take their meeting off of the secular AA website, so that they could stay on their district website. So that was really kind of a misunderstanding, I think, of that tradition. I don’t know why they felt such a need to put a burden on the group like that to have to prove that they were an AA group simply because their site… Their meeting was listed on some other website.
0:27:49 Angela: Right. Yeah, it’s interesting. I think there’s been quite a few groups that have had issues like that. And so I think it helps to think about service in AA beyond our group level, because if you get a GSR, and you start to make your way within other service at the district level or area level, then you’ll be on the boards that determine if a group… You’ll ultimately have the authority to say that a group can or can’t be on a website, and so, yeah, I think more of us should get involved like that so that we don’t run into that problem anymore, because it really does seem to be whoever has control of the list at that time pretty much decides who gets to be on and who doesn’t. And they use the tradition whatever way they think it reads.
0:28:47 John: Well, somebody from Facebook posted, he said, “When I tried to start a secular meeting in the same clubhouse as the traditional AA meeting, I ran into the situation where the traditional members had grave concerns as to how it would appear to the public, and how it might make them look in the very religious community. In other words, by me opening a godless AA meeting, it would make them look bad as an AA group.” That’s really interesting because that’s just what the problem that they had in the early days of AA about setting membership rules ’cause they didn’t wanna look bad to the public. And that’s also… I don’t know what group, what area you’re from, but that’s also the problem I think that they ran into in Denver. Jeb’s group out there in Denver, the Freethinkers group, they are still not listed, I don’t think, on their central office website. And the reason that they were given by the person who ran the central office was that they didn’t want a newcomer’s first impression of AA to be that secular meeting. That was the reason they gave. And also, I think they also, because Jeb’s meeting meets… They meet at a place called the Secular Hub. And so another reason for excluding them was because they were accusing his group of having an outside affiliation because they meet at the Secular Hub. But that was totally ridiculous too because all the other groups are meeting in churches, so… [laughter]
0:30:04 Angela: Right, yeah. My group is not Unitarian, not that there’s anything wrong with that, and yet they had to choose a group to be a part of, I guess that would be okay. But yeah, that’s pretty silly. The group that meets at the library are not librarians. I don’t know it just… Yeah, it reminds me of when I used to use the Bible to bash people and it’s kind of… It feels like the same thing, that I would take the things of Christianity that I liked and promote those and all the stuff that I didn’t like or that we’re embarrassed about I would just kind of pretend they didn’t exist and yeah. And so I think that people within the fellowship sometimes do that as well.
0:30:49 John: Peter’s bringing something up that I also… I agree with him. I read this, I actually made a note to talk about it. In the Twelve and Twelve, it talks… After it talks, it gives you the story about Dr. Bob saying, “What would the master do?” And they let the guy in and everything. They also tell the story of Ed the Atheist, do you ever hear this? So, Ed the Atheist is like… And I’m wondering, I don’t know if this is actually Jim Burwell or who it is, but anyway, so Ed the Atheist is like… Nobody likes him. Because he goes on about how he doesn’t think… He thinks that AA would be better off without all the God stuff. Right? And he says that openly in his meetings and everything. And people don’t like him at all, and they’d wanna… They would just assume that he’d go out and get drunk. Right? Well…
0:31:30 Angela: Right.
0:31:31 John: Eventually he does. He holes up in a hotel somewhere and he’s getting drunk, but fortunately he rolls out of bed and he starts reading the Bible. [chuckle] And then everything’s great for him after that, so. [chuckle]
0:31:46 Angela: Right, right. Yeah.
0:31:48 John: That’s… I agree with you. That Peter, that was kind of silly. It seems like in the Big Book and the 12 and 12, they really went out of their way to insult atheists as much as they possibly could. But he also says that their tradition worked because they didn’t kick him out for blasphemy, and instead he was able to stay around long enough to “Get it.” Yeah, that was a real problem. It’s interesting that they… Bill was afraid to write about the gay person, right, in the 12 and 12. But he seemed to kinda get over that, I guess… I don’t know where he was with the atheists and so forth, but I know that he’s given some talks later in life where he was more open about people interpreting the steps in different ways and so forth. But, yeah. It’s like the atheist, when they wrote those books, was totally disregarded as someone who needs to find God for the most part. So that kind of gives us kind of a rough going of finding our home in AA. So I guess that’s why we have to have our secular groups. So, yeah. Good point, Peter. That was an annoying story. That didn’t really add much to the tradition, I didn’t think.
0:33:05 Angela: No, no.
0:33:07 John: But something else I wanted to mention, Angela, is something that happened here with some groups, is the reading of the blue card. And I’ve mentioned this before too. The blue card… I’ll just read you what it says. It says, “This is a closed meeting of Alcoholics Anonymous. In support of AA’s singleness of purpose, attendance at closed meetings is limited to persons who have a desire to stop drinking. If you think you have a problem with alcohol, you are welcome to attend this meeting. We ask that when discussing our problems, we confine ourselves to those problems as they relate to alcoholism.” So what I’ve seen happen is people would actually read that blue card and it made people who also had drug problems feel uncomfortable, like they couldn’t talk about their other addictions in meetings or even introduce themselves as an addict. In fact, we had one person that went to a group like that where the blue card was being read all the time, and he wasn’t comfortable in that group anymore. So he had to leave, and he started coming to our group. Yeah, so. But I don’t even know why they came out with that card. I guess there was a problem, they wanted to control the conversation in some way.
0:34:19 Angela: Right. But again, they don’t have control of it.
0:34:23 John: That’s right.
0:34:24 Angela: That was one of the big things in that if you listen to the whole thing that Barry L did, he talks about how much control the general conference has over AA members and AA groups, which is none. [chuckle] They can make suggestions and have some sort of a moral guidance, but then if the groups want to follow it they can or they don’t. I was speaking with some other members, I think this last weekend, talking about the various groups that are out there that get to call themselves AA, ’cause somebody was talking about who should get to call themselves AA and what a group is, and it made me think of one, at a lot of meetings I hear people say that when they move or go to a meeting in another town, that they don’t do AA right. And so, whatever town or place that you start AA in is the right way to do AA.
0:35:30 Angela: So some of the places where the group meetings are just people talking about their problems is not considered, from people in my area, as a real AA group where they’re not doing it right because they’re not talking about the steps and sponsorship and blah blah blah blah blah. And so, what is a real AA group and what isn’t? Are the Back to Basics group, are they the real AA group? And are secular groups not? Or the Pacific group? Or the… What is it? The Eastern group [chuckle] Atlantic group, where you have to be dressed up. You have to show up in a suit and tie, and women have to wear skirts or dresses and certain things get to be said, and you’re assigned sponsors and all that kind of stuff. And the thing is, is that they all get to be AA. AA doesn’t actually have the authority to say, “No, you’re not an AA meeting.”
0:36:33 John: AA is what your group decides it is.
0:36:35 Angela: Right, right.
0:36:37 John: It’s so local, that’s what it is. AA is all about your group. Interestingly enough though, this COVID thing is changing that a bit. Because what I’m noticing is that… My group, for example, not to a large extent, but we get people, like your group does, from other places come to our meetings, and it’s getting to be like our group is not just us people here in Kansas City, but our group is a broader world, which is good, but it really kinda changes that local kind of flavor and it brings in different ideas and ways, which is not a bad thing, maybe it’ll help in the long run.
0:37:16 Angela: Right, yeah. Well, I think it’s… We are a microcosm, as I’ve said before, of the larger picture, and some places are struggling with the international idea, and whether or not we should be local rather than global and things like that. And so this was just another, I think, example of that. Yeah, and so I think that there’ll be some groups that will want to go back to just their little core group of people and stuff, and then a lot of us that’ll have a mixed kind of thing going on and are more open to that sort of thing. The funny thing with it though, now that I think about it though, is that in AA people go in and out all the time, so, how can we be like, I just want it to be my group the way that it was. It’s like…
0:38:07 John: Oh good we got a caller.
0:38:10 Angela: Yeah, you’re gonna have different people. It’s what it’s all about.
0:38:14 John: Hi, how you doing?
0:38:18 Jacquie: Hey, I’m good. I’m good. It’s Jackie.
0:38:21 John: This Jacquie?
0:38:22 Jacquie: How you guys doing?
0:38:23 John: Good.
0:38:26 Jacquie: Yeah yeah, I thought I’d call in and just talk a little bit about some of the stuff you you guys were talking about and John I love that you kinda threw yourself under the bus earlier when you were saying that you asked somebody if they had an honest desire to stop drinking.
0:38:40 John: Yes, I did. I tested him. [laughter]
0:38:44 S5: Yeah, because I got sober around the same time, same age and I used to do that stuff too and I was thinking about it when I was listening to you guys, and for me, I’m not gonna say it was like tht for you. I was so desperate to get sober and stay sober, that I kind of thought that I had to uphold the principles but I’m not saying the principles as they’re written because now, when we talk about them, they’re pretty roomy, but back then, I was just kind of listening to the cool kids or the old timers and I wanted to fit in, right?
0:39:25 Angela: The cool kids in AA.
0:39:29 Jacquie: Yeah, right like you guys. Like John and Angela. [laughter].
0:39:34 John: Oh yeah, I was like that too. I was totally indoctrinated into the group that I went to. And I don’t wanna put this group down, they’re a great bunch and I had great friends there, and I stayed sober for a long time, but they really loved that Big Book. And so I had it in my brain that the Big Book was the best book, the only book you could read [laughter] and they would dismiss books like, “Living Sober.” “You don’t wanna… That’s not real AA.” [laughter] So it’s like… And it’s hard to kinda get that out of your brain, that thinking. Took me a long time.
0:40:09 Jacquie: Definitely. I do remember when it started happening. I remember in my early days I was part of the in-crowd and it’s nice to hear that John, but there’s a bunch of guys, who wanted to start an AA homegroup, the kind of place_ I was growing up in and… Absolutely no volunteers and you had to be called on and it was… And I had lived in other places. They had never lived in other places and I was like “Look man, when I was new it was all volunteers. Nobody celebrated anniversaries and here whe, it’s crazy and they just stay in their own little world, that’s just how they felt AA was, you know what I mean?
0:41:08 Jacquie: Yeah and so, I don’t know, I think it can be kind of dangerous, but anyway, that’s when I started changing was when I could see them being so rigid and I was like god, you’re just so _____. Yeah, ______ when I first came around I was with a lot of the old timers, but I kinda wanted to be like… I thought they knew what they were doing and now I think as I get older I get less_____people… Like you guys were saying, it doesn’t matter. I know around here they call them “And A’s”. “I’m an alcoholic and a _____ Why does it bother you? Who cares how people identify themself.
0:42:10 Angela: Yeah, if I listed all the things I identified myself as that’d take up probably half a meeting, so… [laughter] They’re just gonna have to take my word that alcoholic is part of it.
0:42:21 John: It was real common when I first started coming to meetings, it was really common to hear people introduce themselves as, “I’m so and so I’m an alcoholic and a co-dependent”, “I’m so and so I’m an alcoholic and a drug addict”, “I’m so and so I’m an alcoholic.” And all these other different things. And that was really common. And then somewhere along the way, people started giving people a hard time for saying things like that for some reason, and it got a little bit kind of rigid, a little bit, and you don’t hear people introduce themselves that way so much anymore, which is kind of surprising that we kinda went in that direction, but yeah, I’ve noticed that anyway.
0:43:01 Angela: Yeah, I blame the synonym cult. [laughter] I really do. But that is one of the nice things about secular meetings is that people can identify themselves, at least in ours, and most of the ones that I attend as whatever they want or not at all, I guess it’s technically the qualifying that people are doing. But yeah, I can just say that “I’m Angela” and then start talking. It’s not a big deal. Or I can say that “I’m Angela and I’m alcohol-free.”
0:43:36 John: Right.
0:43:37 Angela: Or if I’m at a regular meeting or a traditional meeting and I wanna be obnoxious, I will start listing a whole bunch of things that I am including a vegan, a dog owner… [laughter] I’m usually only being obnoxious if somebody’s set me off and I haven’t had enough time to pause.
0:44:00 S5: Yeah well it’s funny right, that you have to qualify yourself. Who in the hell wants to come to an AA meeting if they’re not an alcoholic? It’s not that much fun.
0:44:09 John: That’s very true Jackie. That’s true. That’s the thing about it, I have actually had this discussion with Angela once before, I remember having a podcast with Angela and I said, “Thing is nobody really… If you’re not alcoholic you’re not going to stick around for an AA meeting”, and I think for the most part it’s true. Although Angela did point out, that she did meet a young woman who went to enough meetings and realized that she wasn’t an alcoholic, but she had other mental issues. Isn’t that right, Angela?
0:44:40 Angela: Yeah, yeah, it was somebody that I actually sponsored and, after a while, she got into some more mental health care and testing and stuff with her doctor and determined that she was rapid cycling bipolar and that once she got treatment for that, she didn’t drink alcoholically, because she only drank alcoholically when she was cycling with her mental illness. And so, she no longer considered herself an alcoholic, and whether that’s true or not, it’s not up for me to say, but I continue to know her and it’s going on probably 11 years. 10 or 11 years. And she doesn’t drink alcoholically. I’ve never seen her drink alcoholically. And so I think that some people may come in and be in the midst of a mental health crisis or may be just some sort of a traumatic experience, and then after a while determine that they aren’t alcoholic. But that’s really hard to change if you get indoctrinated into saying you’re an alcoholic. Every time you go to a meeting, I think it would be very difficult to be able to go back on that after a while.
0:46:03 John: And the thing is, you don’t really… The requirement says, “To have a desire to stop drinking.” That’s it. It doesn’t say anything other than that. It doesn’t say you have to have gone down this far, and that’s actually a good thing because now we do know that alcoholism really, truly does run on a spectrum from one degree to another degree.
0:46:25 Angela: Yeah. “You have to come in and bring us a report from your ER visit showing your blood alcohol level at the time, and then we’ll determine if you can be in AA.”
0:46:36 John: I honestly thought that they might give me some sort of a test when I went to my first meeting, because I didn’t know what I was going to do if they wouldn’t let me in if I didn’t qualify. I thought they’d say “Man, kid you’re too young.”
0:46:48Jacquie: Yeah I always thought it was a little intimidating when people would say “Oh I blew a 0 point blah blah blah. I drank… ” I just never could relate to that kind of… For me it was just like…
0:46:58 John: No…
0:47:00 Jacquie: “I feel terrible, I can’t stop drinking.”
0:47:02 John: I’m not really good enough at math to know what that means, anyway. But I remember they used to give me percentages like that too. The police would say “You blew this, that or that.” I could never remember, it didn’t really register to me what it really meant, because, I don’t understand. Anyway, that’s just the way it is.
0:47:22 Jacquie: Oh yeah, and you know _____ Even when people come in there like Angela’s friend or people who figure out maybe they are not alcoholic. It doesn’t hurt anybody. They’re not hurting… It’s not gonna kill AA. AA is here to stay. Secular AA is here to stay. People are just so afraid. Again, I got _____1989, and there was all that crap on the east coast about court slips. You sign court slips. I was like “Who cares?” People come into a meeting and the secretary they’ll say “Oh would you sign this?” and the secretary would be like “No, it doesn’t sign court slips.” and I’ ll be like “Hey come here I’ll sign it.” I mean I’m not gonna sign my last name, I’ll sign as Jackie R. Because I’m a member of AA signing that court slip, but I don’t know, it’s all the And again I wanna say… I’ll put myself under the bus. I did my time in the AA police, but thank God I grew up. Anyway, I’ll let you guys go, thanks so much again seriously guys, all the work you put into this it’s really fabulous. And listening to that guy talk back in the 80s, that was great. I just ____. So thank you so much and… Yeah I’ll catch you soon I’m sure.
0:48:44 John: Yeah. Thanks for calling Jackie, nice to hear from you.
0:48:48 Jacquie: Okay, be well. Bye.
0:48:53 John: Well that was nice, nice to hear from her. Gosh, I don’t know what else to say about this tradition Angela, I guess we don’t really have to beat a dead horse if we’ve kinda talked about it, and if there isn’t any other comments about it, I think that… Is that someone calling? No… So anyways…
0:49:11 Angela: It was a prank-caller.
0:49:13 John: Yeah, I was hoping. “Oh God someone’s calling. Great.”
0:49:18 Angela: Yeah, no, I agree. I did think that the last comment that Jackie made though, about the court cards is something that still goes on in this area.
0:49:29 John: Yeah, Can you… I couldn’t hear her very good. The audio wasn’t so great, what did she say, Angela?
0:49:34 Angela: She was talking about court cards. So, people who are assigned to come to AA by the courts, and there’s been a lot of controversy on various levels of whether they can do that or not, and so that’s what has determined in some areas that AA is a cult and or a religion. Because you can’t force people to go to AA depending on what state you’re in and things like that. But here they do, it’s part of what you are assigned to do, depending on whatever your court thing is, whether it’s DUI or other things. And so we call them green cards here. Yeah and so it’s getting your green card signed, and there are certain meetings where that’s the majority of the people, there are a few people who’ve been sober a little while, and then a bunch of, green card people, and then… So some meetings they wil sign them, some meetings say at the beginning of the meeting, that they’re not gonna sign them.
0:50:35 Angela: Our group, we say… Well, we used to say that you can put your card in the basket when we pass for the seventh tradition and then pick them up on your way out, and then there are some that say, “If you have a green card, just hand it to the person next to you to sign.” And then that way if the person just wants it signed and wants to head out, they can. It’s not that big of a deal. But in some meetings or some people it is a big deal, they don’t want people there who don’t want to be there. But then again, not many of us wanted to be there. When we started, it wasn’t on our to-do list. It wasn’t “Hashtag, get into AA.”
0:51:19 John: You know what I find interesting is that so many of the people that, they take it real serious. In other words, I think at one level, they understand that AA is anonymous, and there’s no way that the court is gonna be able to check to make sure that the person who signed their card is a legitimate AA member and they were really at that meeting. So in other words, they could just sign it themselves or have their friend sign it or whatever, and no one would ever know the difference. But they take it seriously, and I think part of it is just the fear of getting caught not doing what they’re being told to do. So that always surprises me is that people would actually take that so seriously.
0:52:00 John: I actually had to get my card signed for a little while too. When I first started going to meetings, I was in this program, I hated it. I was forced to go to it and they would… I’d have to do a urinalysis periodically, and I had to take these classes, and I had to get my card signed to prove I was going to AA meetings. I absolutely hated it, but it always felt like those people were trying to trip me up, that they were hoping that they would catch me doing something wrong, so I could go to jail, I just hated that place. It was called Community Addictions Program. But anyway, I guess it did some people so good, but I just did it ’cause I had to. Anyway, I remember those days, I’ll never forget it. I had to do that.
0:52:43 John: Well, I guess we can kinda wrap things up. I think that I’d like to talk a little bit about some things coming up on the podcast. I’ve recorded some episodes and I was kind of behind on getting them edited, so over this last holiday I did a… I edited four or five different episodes, and so I’ve got a lot that are scheduled to come out. So on Sunday, I’m gonna post the Dr. Jekyll and Mr. Hyde episode that I did with Sam, and that’s really an interesting one. We just talk about the book we read “Dr. Jekyll and Mr. Hyde” and how that relates to alcoholism and addiction. And then I did… Oh gosh, I did a podcast episode with Dr. Adina Silvestri, who does the Atheists in Recovery podcast, and I’ll be posting that here, real soon. And then I did the podcast with Dave, my friend in Kansas City, who’s a comedian. And who else did I got coming up? I’ve got some… I just got a lot of different episodes coming up.
0:53:47 Angela: Cool, and then you have another holiday weekend coming up too, so you can get busy on all the other ones.
0:53:54 John: Oh, yeah. John C from our Facebook group, I had a conversation with him. So I’ll post that. So actually I have for the next two weeks, we’ll be posting three episodes a week, Sunday, Wednesday and Friday, ’cause I’m just kind of wanting to get those out. And what I’m gonna do with the live streams, I will just post them like a week later. So this one that we did tonight, the podcast… So the YouTube version and the Facebook version will be there immediately, but the… I always also edit them and put them out as a podcast form, and those will be put out like a week from today, so.
0:54:26 John: Lot of stuff, but I could still use more guests. If people want to be a guest on the podcast, you can email me at email@example.com, or if you’re on Facebook, just send me an instant message or however you wanna get a hold of me, I’d love to have you on. I can send you a calendar where you can sign up. And basically all we do is share your story. It’s that simple, and we can have a conversation from that, or if there’s a particular topic that you would like to talk about, or there’s something going on at your home group or whatever. If you wanna talk about how you’re dealing with COVID, anything, I’d love to have you on the podcast. And it’d be a lot of fun. We go for maybe 30, 45 minutes, when we do those podcasts. So the way it’s working though, it’ll actually be posted like a few weeks after we record it, but I still would love to have people on.
0:55:15 Angela: Yeah, and if you are in another country and listen to this at a different time, because this is three in the morning for you or something, then still contact John and he can do one with you at a different time so that you can share cause I’d really love to hear how some people are handling getting and staying sober in a different country.
0:55:40 John: Yeah. I’ve actually done some.
0:55:41 Angela: And I know we have people in Istanbul and Abu Dhabi and all of that kind of stuff.
0:55:45 John: Yep, cause I have the time slots, all throughout, so that it would be like, at a good time for anybody wherever you are in the world, whether it be Australia or Europe or anywhere else like that. And that’s another thing you reminded me of, Angela, we were talking about doing a live stream, even if just occasionally, maybe on what would be for us in the morning on a Sunday, so that people in Europe could participate in those live streams. So I’m up for that, if you wanna do that. It might not be a bad idea for those in Europe and who might… ‘Cause I think it’s like way past midnight in Europe right now.
0:56:24 Angela: Yeah, depending on where you’re at, so. Cool, that would be fun. Yeah.
0:56:27 John: Yeah, so…
0:56:29 Angela: Otherwise you’re just gonna get us reading conference-approved literature, and nobody wants that.
0:56:36 John: And that’s another thing too, if there’s a topic that you guys wanna talk about on the live stream let us know. Or another thing you could do for the livestream, we can just have it like someone could just share their story like at a speaker meeting. That would be nice, too, so if somebody would like to do that… This is just here, we started doing this… When we started these livestreams, I didn’t know that we’d be going this long, quite honestly. I just didn’t imagine that the COVID thing was going to keep me in my house and so forth for so long. But, I’m coming to the realization that I don’t think that my group is gonna be meeting in person. The church that we meet at, they’re not going to have services. The earliest that they’re gonna have services is May of 2021. And they’re talking about allowing groups to meet there, but you can only meet with 10 people at a time, and there’s only one room where you can meet that has enough room where you can have the social distancing. And then you have to do this regimen of cleaning before and after and mask, and all that kind of stuff. It just seems like, for me, I’m not gonna be able to go to meetings for quite a long time, face-to-face meetings. So this is kind of my AA now, doing these podcasts, online meetings and the sort.
0:57:52 Angela: Right. And the great thing about this one is that in the comments, you can basically crosstalk.
0:57:58 John: Yeah, you can crosstalk.
0:58:00 Angela: I was thinking about that the other day. I’m like, “So, what is it about the livestream and the comments that… ” Because sometimes people are just tons of people talking on there and I think it’s that they get to crosstalk, that’s kinda what it is, is you get to say what you’re thinking about what someone else is saying in real time, basically out loud. If you’re feeling rebellious, you can come on here and do some crosstalk.
0:58:29 John: Yeah, that chat feature actually works out pretty well, that’s really cool. And I love that because it helps us with our discussion, and it’s fun to see the people chatting with each other and so forth. It’s fun. I’m glad that we’re doing this. So anyway, thank you everybody for listening to another livestream here. We’ll be back again next Friday with a topic to discuss and hopefully it will be one of interest. We will see. I got some interesting comments about last week’s episode, by the way. Was it last week where we talked about outside issues?
0:59:01 Angela: Yeah.
0:59:01 John: Yeah, interesting. Interesting comments. A lot of people liked it, some people thought, “Shouldn’t be doing that.” Whatever. But that was the whole idea of the episode. It was like a question, “Should we be talking about this?” And I think ultimately, I think we did a pretty good job with it, but anyway. That’s it, that’s another episode of AA Beyond Belief, the podcast. Thank you for listening, it’s just been a pleasure to do this. Thank you, Angela, once again. It’s been great having you.
0:59:28 Angela: Yeah, thanks for inviting me.
0:59:29 John: If you’d like to support our site and podcast, there’s a couple different ways you can do that. You can be a patron by going to our Patreon page at patreon.com/aabeyondbelief and just sign up for a small recurring donation. $1, $5, $10 a month, whatever. You can also donate through PayPal at paypal.me/aabeyondbelief and just go to our website and click on the donate button. But if you don’t have the money, that’s okay too. A lot of people don’t right now and that’s totally okay. We’ll be alright. So anyway, you all take care, be well. We’ll be back again real soon.
1:00:01 Angela: Bye-bye.
1:00:01 John: Bye-bye.
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