We are Mainstream
My first call for help was to the Kansas City Area Central Office of Alcoholics Anonymous. I made the call upon finding my way to my apartment after spending the night in jail and the morning wandering the streets and contemplating the futility of it all.
Drinking wrecked my young life and everything was out of control. I was deeply terrified. It was an unbearable fear, the like of which I have not experienced since, and it was in this state of mind that I placed the phone call to the Kansas City AA Central Office. I remember the man’s voice answering the phone “Alcoholics Anonymous” to which I replied, “I think I need help”. I had the strange sense that even over the telephone this man understood my fear and desperation. He spoke in a calm and compassionate tone and gave me the address and time of a nearby A.A. meeting.
In those days there was no Internet, if you wanted to find an A.A. meeting you had to pick up the phone and talk to someone. Thankfully there were thousands of alcoholics preceding me who built a fellowship and a service structure that would not only save my life, but change it in such a way as I could never imagine. That phone call was over 26 years ago, and today I am sober and grateful to the fellowship of Alcoholics Anonymous and to the men and women who freely gave of themselves to help people like me.
I love Alcoholics Anonymous and I try to give back what I have been given, and I’ve been doing that since I’ve been sober all these many years, but something is different now. I no longer believe in God and I feel that I am outside the mainstream of A.A. I intentionally used the word “feel” when describing myself as outside the mainstream because feelings are powerful things, though they sometimes don’t quite match with reality.
Are we atheists and agnostics really outside of the mainstream of A.A? The more I ponder that question, the more I realize that no, we are not. We agnostics and atheists in A.A. share with all A.A. members a common experience of losing control of our drinking to the point of crisis. We could no longer manage to go it on our own. We needed help and that help came from fellow alcoholics. This is an experience we all share.
We also share the experience of finding hope in A.A. that we could live happy and productive lives free from alcohol, and we share a yearning for this freedom and a commitment to do whatever was needed to achieve this new life. All of us in A.A. both the believer and nonbeliever made a decision to change what we had been doing, to try something new, to listen to others with an open mind.
Both the believer and the atheists in A.A. can agree that that they were changed by this experience, and that it was more than just not drinking, we were fundamentally different people because of everything that makes Alcoholics Anonymous what it is.
The only difference between we agnostics, atheists and freethinkers in A.A. and those who believe in a god is how we describe our experience. More religious A.A. s term the experience a “spiritual awakening” and they attribute it to a personal relationship with a loving God. The atheists in A.A. believe that we also had a transformative experience that we attribute to a personal relationship with loving people. It’s the same thing, just different ways to describe it. As Rev. Ward Ewing said in his talk at WAFTIAAC 2014, “why don’t we just say that we had an experience”.
Today, the Des Moines Register published an article in the Op Ed section about the Des Moines AA Central Office refusing to list the Broad Highway Group in its roster of A.A. meetings in Des Moines. The Broad Highway Group is one of over 200 A.A. groups for agnostics, atheists and freethinkers world-wide. The article quoted an unnamed person at the Des Moines Central Office as stating that they wouldn’t list the meeting because the group doesn’t “take things directly out of the Big Book”.
This is painful to read. I cannot imagine the heartbreak that I would feel if the Central Office that helped save my life would not recognize my recovery as being mainstream A.A., just as valid as the recovery of those who believe in a supernatural deity and who follow the Big Book to the letter. The name of the Des Moines group is taken from the book Alcoholics Anonymous which describes the program as a “broad highway” as opposed to a narrow path. A.A. should always strive for inclusivity and should always shun exclusivity. We are about saving lives, our own lives and it’s unconscionable to close the doors of recovery to a significant portion of people, the nonbeliever or agnostic.
Of course the situation in Des Moines is an aberration. The vast majority of agnostic A.A. meetings are recognized and listed by the local AA Central Offices or Intergroups. It is my hope that the A.A. community in Des Moines will reconcile and find that what they share in common is far more important than where they differ, and that one day soon the Broad Highway group will be fully embraced by the A.A. community in Des Moines.
Unity, Service, Recovery!