My Sobriety and My Home Group
This blog is an old friend I haven’t visited for a very long time — too long. I used to write here quite a bit. It wasn’t particularly good writing and very few people ever read any of it, but that didn’t matter. I wrote because I needed to write. I was writing to come to terms with being an atheist in Alcoholics Anonymous. It was a difficult and somewhat painful realization that for twenty-five years I sat in the rooms of AA, talking God, quoting the Big Book, getting on my knees in prayer, and I no longer believed any of that was necessary. I was done with that chapter of my AA life.
I was afraid at first to let anyone know, so I didn’t. I kept it a secret. I didn’t believe in God or Gods or anything mystical at all, but I kept that all to myself. When I tell my story, some people get the impression that my becoming an atheist was a sudden revelation. It was not. Rather what happened, is that over an extended period of time, the natural doubts I always had about things supernatural were nagging at me. When the day finally came that I accepted my atheism, it scared the hell out of me. What was I going to do with AA?
I turned to the Big Book and read it with new eyes. I took out a pen and instead of highlighting the words, I started to cross them out. I crossed out all of the supernatural bullshit. I’m sorry for using impolite language, but what the hell, we are old friends after all. So, I crossed out the supernatural bullshit and I found a program of recovery that worked for me and it made sense. It was a program that was centered more on action and less on belief. It was about getting honest, asking for help, making a decision to change, and then following through. It was really a “practical program of action”. I was comfortable with this, and I felt that I could stay sober in AA as an atheist. No problem!
The only problem was that I couldn’t cross out the supernatural bullshit that went on during the meetings. In fact, when I slowly started coming out as an atheist, people piled it on even thicker. Or was that my imagination? It’s possible that maybe with this new perspective that I was simply more sensitive to just how religious AA really was.
Regardless of the cause, I was no longer comfortable in AA. After 25 years of attending meetings at the same group, I no longer felt that I fit in. It seemed as if, I couldn’t be who I really was. I felt like I was’t being honest, and I just plain couldn’t take it anymore. Searching the Internet for people like me, I learned about agnostic AA, and on July 20, 2014 on my 26th AA anniversary, I asked Jim C., the only other atheist I knew in AA if he would like to start an agnostic AA meeting. He said “yes”, and that night we put up this website. After a while, I started posting on our blog. It was relief to have a place where I could freely express myself. Here on this blog, I could really be myself.
In a few weeks after the site went up, we had the first meeting of We Agnostics Kansas City. I think it was the first Thursday of August. Justin, Dave and Austin from the We Agnostics Group in Lawrence, Kansas came to our first meeting. I remember I read a passage from the Big Book, and they looked at me like, “does he know what the hell he’s doing?” We had a nice meeting, the four of us. I’m glad they made it because my cofounder Jim wasn’t able to be there that night, and without the Lawrence guys, I would have been all alone. Thanks to them, I can write tonight that there has never once been a single instance when I had to sit in the meeting room alone. There has always been at least one other alcoholic to keep me company.
Tonight, I am writing on the eve of my 28th anniversary in AA, and on the second anniversary of the We Agnostics AA Group in Kansas City. There is something I think therapeutic about anniversaries. It’s an opportunity to look back at the journey we’ve taken, and maybe feel grateful, maybe even proud. It’s a time to look back and reflect upon and recognize our growth and change. That’s what I am doing tonight, it’s what I do every year when my AA anniversary comes along.
These past 28 years have been an incredible journey, but the last two years have been especially meaningful. My experience in AA is now much richer, and my sobriety I think is built on more solid ground. Tonight, on the eve of my anniversary, I feel compelled to write and share with you a few things about my home group, We Agnostics.
When Jim and I first started out on this venture, I showed him a version of the Twelve Steps that I wrote. We very innocently figured that we would adapt those steps for our meeting. In fact, we were gong to have them printed up on a nice banner that we could unfurl and hang from the wall. It seemed to make perfect sense at the time. Later, I read about what was going on in Toronto, and I told Jim that writing our own steps could give us a problem with Central Office. We thought about it and decided it wasn’t worth the trouble, that we would instead display the original Twelve Steps, and leave it up to each individual to decide on their own interpretation.
Jim and I came from a background where the Big Book and the Twelve and Twelve were venerated, studied and read from often. However, neither of us were comfortable with those books any longer, so we decided to use as meeting topics a collection of readings that Jim found from the book, A Walk in Dry Places. Later we augmented this with other books that addressed recovery in secular and sometimes spiritual language. One of our favorite books for meeting discussion was Joe C.’s Beyond Belief: Agnostic Musings for 12 Step Life. We displayed these books at every meeting, and we would often give a copies away to newcomers. We were supposed to be lending them, but I was actually so touched at how these books affected people, that I was happy to give them away. This was much to my wife’s chagrin, and eventually I had to curtail the practice of giving away books.
However, these books inspired people and before you knew it, they started writing their own versions of the Twelve Steps. I’ll never forget when Erica K. came to a meeting one night with copies of her adaption of the Steps. She was absolutely beaming! When she first joined us, she was having a very difficult time with the religiosity of AA, and she wasn’t comfortable at what we in agnostic AA often refer to as “traditional AA meetings”. This however, is no longer the case and she now attends traditional AA meetings comfortably as an open atheist.
We used to have Step Meetings taken from Marya Hornbacher’s Waiting: A Nonbeliever’s Higherpower, and this book had a tremendous impact on Erica and others in the group. We still have a Step meeting on the last Thursday of every month, but for the longest time, we read almost exclusively from Marya’s book. Now, we also use The Alternative 12 Steps, by Martha Cleveland as well as other books.
It was fun to watch Erica grow comfortable in her sobriety. Not only did she end up writing her own 12 Steps, she has become perhaps the best spokesperson for our goup. A year ago, while attending a meeting at another group, she went up to Richard W. after the meeting and said, “You’re an atheist. You need to go to the We Agnostics Group”, and she gave him our card. The next day he showed up with several members from that group and with 25 people in the room, this was our largest meeting.
One of the people who attended the meeting that night was Kevin P., who discovered the book A Freethinker in Alcoholics Anonymous, by John Lauritsen. Two months later, Kevin founded the group, Freethinkers in AA Kansas City. By this time, We Agnostics was meeting three days per week; Sunday, Tuesday and Thursday. The Freethinkers group started meeting on Monday and Wednesday, and then we started a Friday noon meeting at We Agnostics. This brought us almost overnight to six secular AA meetings a week. We have since added a Saturday noon meeting so today there is a secular AA meeting in Kansas City every day of the week.
Over the past two years, we have seen a lot of newcomers. Much more than I recall during the last ten years at my old home group and that is not an exaggeration. It is rare to have a meeting without a newcomer. People seek us out because they are looking for a secular alternative to the traditional approach to AA, and they are relieved when they find us. People have got sober at our group who say they were not able to get sober at the more “God centered” AA meetings. People are getting sober who otherwise would not avail themselves to Alcoholics Anonymous. That is exactly what we want. We want to carry the message to the still suffering alcoholic. That message being, we can stay sober one day at a time by helping each other. Together we can do what we could not do as individuals.
Our group believes that it’s important to be good AA citizens. Ever since we started meeting, we have donated money to our Central Office —not all groups do that. I serve as GSR and attend District Meetings and Area Assembly. Amy P. serves as our Central Office Delegate and Julie K. is the Alternate Central Office Delegate, and the Secretary for our Group. We have business meetings quarterly where the group decides on how they want to run the meetings and our Treasurer, Gregg O. gives us a report. Speaking of the treasury…the generosity of the members when we pass the hat is unlike anything that I have ever seen at any AA group. It is not uncommon for someone to drop a $5 bill or a $10 bill into the hat. I am very proud of this because when I go to Area Assembly, I hear of other groups struggling with money. They report that their meeting attendance is declining and people aren’t giving more than the traditional dollar. Nobody at our group is pressured to give money, we each as individuals do whatever we can, and we are totally self-supporting.
There is so much about our group that I could write, but I think I will save that for another time. I will close by describing tonight’s meeting because it was a fairly common meeting. There were 21 of us in attendance. A young woman in her 20’s was there for her first ever AA meeting. She intentionally came to our group because we are secular. A man joined us for the first time who wasn’t new to AA, but he was an atheist and has not been comfortable at his home group. He brought with him two of our flyers that were posted at his group; the one for WAAFT IAAC and the one for our group anniversaries on August 6th. He pointed at the line on the WAAFT IAAC flyer, “Human Power Can Relieve Our Alcoholism”, and he smiled. There were people there who were struggling through the first weeks and months of sobriety, and there were people like me with decades of sober time. We laughed during this meeting as we normally do. There is almost always laughter.
It’s a great thing to be sober for 28 years, but it’s even better to be sober with my home group…We Agnostics Kansas City.
Thank you for giving me a home in AA.