Emphatically, YES. Despite the 12 Steps calling us to rely on a higher power, that higher power can be many things, not limited to a deity.
Recently I was at a meeting where there were some conflicting opinions being thrown around about whether someone who doesn’t believe in God can stay sober in AA. Opinions are always swirling around with people, but in AA, we share experience, strength and hope, not opinions. If someone doesn’t have experience either a. being an atheist that stays sober, or b. knowing an atheist that stays sober, then they really don’t have experience in that subject and should keep their opinions to themselves.
My experience was that I was definitely atheist when I joined AA. I didn’t have any other choices really. I was talking to a counselor that was trying to get information on a program that would cater to an atheist that wanted to get sober, but he never found anything. Getting sober wasn’t something I could really wait around for, so I took the plunge. I remember to this day how angry I was at the end of the beginners meeting circling up with all the AA members that were chanting the ‘Our Father’ at the end of the meeting. I didn’t do it. (Eventually I did, but after several years I returned to my ‘roots’ and quit any kind of group chants all together for an entirely different reason).
The thing that really worked for this atheist is that I was ‘willing’ to believe that a power greater than myself could restore me to sanity. I knew I was insane, and that my life was insane. For a time, the biggest part of my insanity was that I could figure my “life problems” out on my own, and ideally still drink. After beating my head against the proverbial wall for years, I finally admitted that I was willing to believe that a power greater than myself could restore me to sanity. As an atheist though, I just couldn’t figure out what that power was. Willingness to believe meant that I was willing to listen to others and take their suggestions. They suggested that I pray and meditate. As an atheist, one might feel that its a bit contradictory, but I did it. I even tried going to church and doing what I was told in AA initially, “listen for the similarities, not the differences”. While it wasn’t something that ‘caught on’, I tried it.
What happened to me can be described as miraculous if one is so inclined. If you’re an atheist, just say its pretty cool, but my life started changing for the better, one day at a time. What happened is that the AA program worked for me. Day after day, year after year, I worked the program and continued to “seek through prayer and meditation” for a conscious contact with God as I understand him. I’ve studied Eastern and Western philosophy and several religions. SEEKING. What I’ve FOUND is that my opinions about a deity haven’t changed in all that time seeking. Seeking is actually good exercise. . Prayer and meditation for me became an exercise for my mind that would settle me down and help me build a positive attitude. I find that I can practice each and every one of AA’s principles every day without conceding that God created the world in 7 days or that “Jesus loves me”. I’ve even found a ‘church’ that I can belong to that doesn’t conflict with my beliefs, which has been great for me socially and mentally. So in all my years of sobriety, while my ACTIONS have changed, my WILLINGNESS has changed, my beliefs have stayed the same.
Today I don’t refer to my self as an atheist, simply because I don’t reject the existence of a God. I’m like AA in that I just don’t have an opinion. Hard core atheists can be as frustrating with their attempts to indoctrinate the world as some religious folks are. God may or may not be there. I’m open. Bill W. said that we all have a fundamental idea of God, that’s just not true for me yet. Maybe some day, but after many year of willingness to believe, the simple truth is that my beliefs haven’t changed, and I’m still happily sober in AA!
Anonymous Guest Blogger
This month is the 11th month, and so by practice of many AA groups, the 11th Tradition is a topic of discussion. I recently caught one of these meetings, and the discussion was of interest. ”Attraction rather than promotion” is a mantra I hear way too often in AA. Overall, the idea is good, but its used as more of an excuse than I think it was intended for. What it allows for is a large chunk of AA membership to be lazy and avoid doing anything that would help another drunk get the life saving message of AA.
In the Twelve Steps and Twelve Traditions book, the first couple paragraphs talk about how important having a good public relations policy is to our fellowship, and also what good can come out of it: the opportunity to help other alcoholics. The rest of the chapter seems to be a cautionary tale about how the members of AA should stay away from the public eye and allow our friends to recommend us. All good advice, but how do we get friends? What happens when AA becomes ‘old news’ and the press isn’t always as favorable towards us? What happens when the press, struggling for its own survival, decides to only publish melodramatic stories with suggestive headlines? All these questions are ones that are real life issues for our fellowship today. Fortunately, AA has the answers to these questions.
Once I found myself in a bit of a ‘rut’ as far as the program was concerned, though I didn’t realize it at the time.
Accidentally, I got involved in the CPC committee (Cooperation with the Professional Community). I wasn’t trying to save the world. I didn’t care. The opportunity presented itself and I was warmly welcomed into service.
Driving to the meetings and events, my self-centered thoughts seemed to be focused on why I was doing something that seemed to provide no short term benefit to me. There were no beautiful women at the meetings. There was nothing particularly exciting. It took a precious hour out of my schedule, but they told me they really needed me, and it just seemed like the right thing to do.
In those two years, we contacted clergy, doctors, nurses, school counselors, probation offices and judges; always asking them how our fellowship could be more effective in helping them with their problems with alcoholics. Our CPC chairperson insisted that we don’t meet with professionals that work with drunks every day with an attitude that we know how to handle the problem, but instead hold a deep respect and appreciation for what they do, seeing ourselves only as an additional tool for their use.
Now, years later, my understanding of our fellowship has grown, and I’ve seen how CPC committee work has lead to suffering alcoholics being referred to AA’s doors. One of the clergy persons appreciated our visits and information so much, they offered us a place to hold a meeting in their facility. Something they’d never allowed before. Anther contact in probation and parole has become an incredible resource for our corrections committee work and always helps us in contacting probations officers in the area. One medical school started requiring classes to be held only by AA members for its doctors and nurses.Just our small amount of effort has produced friends of AA that seem to continuously help our meetings stay full of newer members looking for a better way of life.
A few months back, I went to a meeting where an old timer was talking about the 12th Step Call. Interestingly, the subject of what our fellowship can do came up. Some people suggested that doing more workshops on how to make a 12th Step call would help, but the old timer disagreed. Saying that having workshops on CPC would teach our members how to generate more 12th Step calls. It sounded a little odd, but thinking about how our fellowship was started, Bill W. contacted the clergy in Akron to line up a meeting with Dr Bob. Weeks later, Bill and Dr. Bob contacted the hospital ward to meet up with AA number 3, Bill D. Even before Bill and Dr. Bob, Ebby T. was helped by Oxford Grouper’s appealing to a Judge in court. Our fellowship was started by reaching out to professionals with gusto, until the years passed and treatment centers took the place of much of our efforts and carrying our message outside of our meetings.
Today, in looking at the 11th Tradition, we as members must work harder than ever to build on our relations with the public through CPC work. As social media changes the way the world communicates, our members must remain vigilant in our efforts to reach the still suffering alcoholic however possible.
AA saved my life every day since walking through the doors, so its always more beneficial to focus on the positive. Our literature never suggests we should become judgemental, arrogant or condescening, yet just about any AA can cite different times when they’ve been subjected to this behavior in meetings. Just about everyone that walks through the door has a lot of growing up to do, and sometimes its the beginner or someone on a relapse that points that out. How embarrasing!
The past few years I’ve been truly interested in the opinions of the disenfranchised that take aim at our fellowship. Bonafide criticism is sometimes hard to seperate from nonsense. Behind the hurt feelings and resentment, I frequently see an element of truth to what they say.
One talk I heard from a circuit speaker Keith L. in my early days talked of an amends he made to the Roman Catholic Church. While making amends to an elderly priest, Keith said the priest stopped him and said, “Its not you who owe me, but I who owe you amends. For all too long, I was comfortable with those that supported me, but never went after those who were lost.” That message has stuck with me. I see that in AA. Those who are detractors or resentful at our wonderful fellowship can be shunned or treated with anger. We react when we need to be loving and understanding. We reject those who don’t accept AA.
For this drunk, its much more fun to crack jokes about the antics of someone like Charlie, and I do. Hell, while he’s off with the Goddesses living out his bitchin life, he’s probably cracking jokes about a troll like me! I have to remember though, that when I’m in the trenches, its my job to walk with the alcoholic, not against. Page 100 of Alcoholics Anonymous says “both you and the new man must walk day by day on the path of spiritual progress.” It doesn’t say anything about them knowing the secret handshake or having to like or agree with me. The whole line about “if you want what we have….” sometimes gives us a big head about what we really do have.
The BEST thing that I have is the knowledge of the gift of humility and the opportunity to help my fellow alcoholics.
Not being as involved in Service this year, I love to find good information on what is being addressed (both before and after) the AA General Service Conference. If you’re not sure what I’m talking about, that’s the meeting held each year where AA delegates from all over the US and Canada meet up with the Trustees of Alcoholics Anonymous and a few others to hash out the issues that face our organization nationally. Literature, budget, Grapevine, Public Information, Cooperation with Professional Committee, Correctional Facilities, Treatment Facilities; committees for these and other topics are formed.
Looking at the topics discussed often times gives an AA member some idea of what issues we should stop and think about ourselves. These issues don’t resolve themselves, and our leaders that make the decisions have often reported about wanting more help from the fellowship to come to an informed consience.
So I usually start searching the web for information on the topics discussed at the conference some time after the holidays so that I can consider the topics myself and talk to others about them. That’s how I figure I can do my job as a member.
Last week I found the article on page to of the Eastern Area of Missouri newsletter (Gratitude Gazette) was a summary of the conference topics for 2011. Take a gander!
Interesting post on the Helper Therapy Principle. from the Times of India.
So often in meetings, folks say, “I don’t know how it work, IT JUST WORKS!” about AA.
I guess that’s why we have doctors, they can figure out how it works, quantify it, etc. Our job is to just do it.
It talks about this Helper Therapy Principle (HTP) as a way we can become less self-centered. In my case, that is really when ‘the program’ kicked in. The first chunk of sober time I had, I still questioned actions like a sharp 5 year old. My sponsor would tell me what to do…..WHY? WHY? WHY? Basically, my questioning was really resistance, even though I didn’t see it that way at the time. But in truth, just like a little kid, if I didn’t get a worthy explanation, I wouldn’t follow the suggestion.
Until I hit that wall in sobriety, came close to the drink, and rededicated myself to doing the deal.
Since then, sponsorship, 12 Step work, and service work are all a big part of keeping my mind off of myself. Some people say that all three things are synonymous, but not in my book. Sponsorhip is 12 Step work, but not all 12 Step Work is sponsorship. Aside from Sponsoring, having a chance to talk to the drunk on the front lines is huge for me. Picking up calls at the intergroup and hearing someone say that AA doesn’t work isn’t quite as “feel good” as giving out a medalion for my pidgeons AA aniversary. Feeling good is only part of the work though. Seeing where I could end up is just as valuable as seeing our successes. Service work to me is different entirely from 12 Step work. Service is just doing a job that makes 12th Step Work possible……often times for someone else. Speaking at schools, organizing committees, visiting doctors, lawyers, and clergy to tell them a little about what AA does and does not do; there are many many ways to do service. If someone were to stay sober for 25 years, they probably couldn’t cover all the different jobs there are out there. Those jobs give me something to focus on, and give me a chance to pay back AA for the wonderous recovery it has given me.
So get out there my fellow AA’ers and get busy with HTP!
CNN just wrote this article about AA members spirituality.
Its funny, because the media seems to know AA more for its ‘pop culture’ than for what it actually is. Our meetings, our introduction (“I’m Horace and I’m an alcoholic…..”, “HI HORACE!!” ) and for other characteristics that aren’t requirements of AA. After all, the spiritual program was outlined and published in Alcoholics Anonymous in 1935. The fact that AA is about spirituality being written about like its news in 2010 is somewhat disappointing.
It is nice to see that its still possible to get favorable press in this day & age when controversial press seems to be more prevalent.
Recently I went to a meeting where the subject was pgs 84-88 of Alcoholics Anonymous; steps 10 & 11. Those pages (mainly 86-7) outline our 24 hour plan. “Upon Awakening….When we retire at night….throughout the day….” As far as what I hear “around the tables” is less about the spiritual steps and more about going to meetings. That wasn’t always the case. Even though the number of AA meetings in the US has dramatically increased since the “old days” of AA, our message really shouldn’t change–within AA or in the media.
Now is a special time for me. Summer is coming to a close, fall is approaching, and so is ROTATION!
It kills me to have summer end, but every other year on opposite years, Alcoholics Anonymous rotates. In and of itself, that’s not so special, but for most of the really active AA members, now is the time that they are looking to the future of what they want to do in service for the next few years.
If this sounds totally foreign to you, no problem. I was a member of AA for quite a while before I really became “plugged in” to AA. Once that happened though, I would never turn back.
What happened for me is that I spent my early days in AA going to meetings and talking about how grateful I was for Alcoholics Anonymous. Many others were doing the same thing. So much so, that it almost seemed like finding new and catchy ways of expressing one’s gratitude for sobriety and Alcoholics Anonymous was the focus. While there’s nothing wrong with that, the principles of AA taught me that gratitude is best expressed by my actions, not my mouth. I noticed that when I did something nice, or went out of my way for someone, the people who showed me their thanks were so much more appealing than the people who acted happy and said thank you.
My time in AA was actually rather tumultuous for a while as I wrestled with several questions about life and AA. I was getting bored with AA and didn’t know what to do. I’d read just about everything out there on the subject and felt that I knew everything I needed to stay sober and happy, but I was growing restless. Then, against my desires, I was elected as my home groups General Service Representative (GSR). The prior GSR didn’t do his job at all and made up some catchy excuses as to why he didn’t fulfill his commitment to the group. He glamorized stories about how district meetings were just crabby people arguing about inane AA matters. So I was willing to do what I was asked, but I WAS NOT excited about stepping into this realm of AA after what he said.
What I found was that I was stepping into the most informed, spiritual, humble and grateful set of AA members that I had ever encountered. In my “AA circles,” I’d met hundreds of people that talked gratitude, now I was with those who ACTED GRATITUDE. In regular meetings, I’d met people who often times gave great reasons as to why they couldn’t sacrifice their time for an AA request, now I was amongst those who really made tremendous sacrifices of their own time to give back to this wonderful fellowship.
Ever since getting involved, I’ve tried to be an observer in Alcoholics Anonymous. I’ve watched group consciences drag on a bit long and some members get up and slowly walk out of the room, silently voicing to the group that they had sacrificed enough. When that happens, I think about the Class A (non-alcoholic) trustees of our fellowship that attend a week long general service conference and four, 5 day “board weekends” to keep our fellowship strong. Group members talk of owing their lives to the program and can’t spend an hour, but these non-alcoholics give nearly 1 month out of a year to us. All throughout the service structure we can observe the people who truly give back and sustain our fellowship.
So now, in roughly half of the areas in Alcoholics Anonymous, the process of rotation is occuring. Now is the time to get involved. For me, it was the best thing I had ever done (without knowing it at the time) in AA. It has impacted my membership in AA and every other aspect of my life. Its made me a better person.
Today, for various reasons, stepping back a bit from really active service was a necessity. Life started getting too big. Fortunately there are still jobs in AA that can be done that don’t require quite as much. We give when and where we can.
Good luck getting “Plugged In” to AA!
A while back, I was on a campout in the rain. It rained all weekend, so the traditional AA camp was replaced with 4 or 5 drunks huddling in the only camper there talking about our lives in Alcoholics Anonymous. The subject of anonymity came up and some of the people there really felt that it had its time in AA, and that they were ok allowing celebrities and any others to break their anonymity at the level of press, radio, TV and films. “Anonymity”, they said, “is a dinosaur.” It was important in our past, but had no place in modern AA.
I argued my thoughts, talking about the situations that had occured historically with those breaking their anonymity and how favorable press can quickly become unfavorable, and how people often judge AA based on their oppinions of the members involved in anonymity breaks; if they think poorly of the member, then they often think poorly of AA.
What was most memorable about that discussion was that everyone really shared their opinons frankly, regardless of what everyone thought.
Ever since then, when discussion about anonymity breaks comes up, I think about the varying ideas about anonymity and its relevance today.
Kudos to the Grapevine this month in addressing an obvious concern of anonymity breaks in social media.
Now that social media has become such a mainstream part of society, we find that our “fellowshipping” has taken on a whole new form. AA has made the transition to the internet, but now that our interactions on social media sites takes our interactions and makes them public, our tradition of anonymity has been under fire like it never has been. Online groups exist where the name and picture of the members is open for all to see, members publicly anounce their affilliation with Alcoholics Anonymous, anniversary dates, events and other aspects about our fellowship for everyone to see.
The folks at GSO seem to be attempting to address the subject at conferences and regional forums, but keeping the membership informed of the traditions and the unintended consequences of breaking them is not an easy task.
When tough subjects like this come up, often times the best answer is Sponsorship. Lets talk about this problem and address it with people we know. We’ve always joked about the proverbial “AA police,” but in fact all members of AA are the AA police. When issues come up in AA, they are solved by “sharing experience, strength and hope”. Now is the time for members of AA experienced in the Traditions to work to inform our members how anonymity remains relevant and how to respect our Traditions in our ever changing world.
Personally it was tough leaving home this year; business, family and all kinds of other excuses. Getting into the Henry B. Gonzalez Convention Center to register pulled me into the spirit! Being amongst tens of thousands of fellow drunks is just what the doctor ordered.
One thing that I’m happy to hear is the statement before every meeting about not taking pictures and not posting them on “unrestricted social media sites.” Unfortunately, most people over 50 don’t understand what that means, even if they are active on Facebook or other sites.
In AA, we face an anonymity crisis with the advent of social media and the formation of AA groups on Facebook, etc. Being able to visit a Facebook AA group and see the full name, picture, and often times employer, family members and other details of a persons life. Its just good to see that being addressed. Hopefully it begins to sink in.
Today I attended the 9am meeting to hear Clancy, Peg M. and Sonja B. It was a great meeting. I’ve heard Clancy I. speak many times live and on CD/Tape. He has a gift when it comes to story telling, but never is he as poignant as he seems to be at major events. International Conventions and his Christmas Eve talks seem to get my attention and help me align my priorities.
A visit to SOBER CITY was a treat. Some friends call it “drunk junk” to which I somewhat agree, but at International Conventions, there’s a big area set up outside of the convention center with all the vendors. There’s funny shirts, and knick knacks of all kinds. My favorite new one was the “RESENTMINTS”: just a plain old tin of mints with the funny name. At $6 and $10 a pop, I wasn’t excited enough to fork over the cash today, but I might tomorrow. I did pick up the traditional T-Shirt (tie died of course) and coffee mug. My originality is enough to choke a horse.
The next meeting I went to was on newsletters and bulletins. My concern in AA is that members have irrational fears about the use of internet and social media. As a fellowship, my feeling is that we need to remain relevant to the norms of society. In society, the printed word is loosing its place. The subject was addressed slightly. Fears about anonymity are well founded, but solving one problem by avoiding a solution doesn’t seem to be the best idea. That would be like me not dating because I’m afraid of getting an STD. It could happen, but there are other ways to solve the problem. Its absolutely possible to remain 100% anonymous online.
My last stop before the big meeting was the meeting on Intergroups. When I needed help, I called an intergroup office. They took my call and helped me get to AA. The fellowship in our area seems to have lost its interest in the front line of 12th Step work and has let the Central Office do its own thing. I was interested in hearing if that is fellowship wide.
The Old Timers meeting was phenomenal. It seems that GSO isn’t listening to the fellowship in how they handle the Old Timers meeting. A guy with 63 years had the most time sober, and despite the fact that the entire stadium seemed to be chanting for them to let him share, they (the GSO manager) did it their way. Most of the people sharing had between 40-45 years sober…..which is a LONG TIME, but there were several people with 50+ years. Why not hear them?
It was nice that the big meeting ended in the “Serenity Prayer” instead of reciting Matthew 6:9 from the Christian Bible. That seems to be a big debate in AA. I’m not sure how. AA Preamble and Tradition say’s that AA is not allied with any sect, denomination, politics, organization or institution. If we said the Pledge of Allegiance, it would seem to any reasonable and honest person that we were allied with the United States, why then does such a profoundly Christian prayer not at least give the impression that we’re a Christian organization.
Funny thing is that this matter has been of serious concern of the service structure and GSO for years, but the fellowship seems very resistant to change.
After all the festivities, the walk back to the convention center was great. Walking a mile or so with so many pumped up sober drunks was a blast. We had a great dinner on the Riverwalk then headed over to what we heard was a great time at the Westin. There was an ICYPAA hospitality room / rave party that was going on there. It was a zoo.
Yesterday’s young peoples meeting the chairperson said something like ” If anyone says that ICYPAA isn’t ‘AA’, THAT’S NOT TRUE!” Let me tell you folks, what I witnessed at the Westin WAS NOT AA! I really was embarrased for AA. It was a mob: people were walking around with no shirts, sitting on tables, pushing through the crowd. It was crazy. It wasn’t sober behavior. It wasn’t close.
The interesting thing about the Traditions, is that they state that each group (or entity) within AA is autonomous, except in matters affecting other groups or AA as a whole. Point one: Autonomous should NEVER be mistaken for Anarchy. Autonomy means self-GOVERNING! Point two: what I witnessed would definately adversely affect AA. Any non-member that may have witnessed that party wouldn’t view AA favorably. It was self-will run riot. In defense: when I was young, that atmosphere was attractive to me. AA can’t be all things to all people. Hopefully all the other young people groups and conferences understand that and just go elsewhere if they want the club atmosphere, or try harder to keep their attendees in line with better standards.
So my message to the folks at ICYPAA, in particularly those responsible for the event here: If you want to be considered “AA” then ACT LIKE IT! (the DJ was great though!)
So today was really a full event. The thing that kills me about the International Convention is that you can’t do it all. Its just not possible. They’ll have 25+ meetings at a time and you just have to pick one. PLUS they don’t exactly have a lunch break, so to just mingle, look at archives, eat and explore, you have to miss some of the other meetings too. Its just overwhelming.
Tomorrow is the end of the convention and we’ll get to do the tourist thing in San Antonio before our trip home monday. One big meeting at the Alamo Dome. No doubt it will be a great event. Despite my opinions and critique, I’m deeply grateful to the General Service Office, Trustees, Delegates, and to the City of San Antonio for everything that was done to pull of this “GREAT EVENT”. It’s not easy.
2015 in Atlanta, watch out. I’m there!
Not exactly the way I’d envisioned our International Convention, but we’ll see.
The International Convention started out in 1950 in Cleveland Ohio and was the scene of Dr. Bobs last talk. Major historic events occured regularly at the International in most of the subsequent events. 1955 AA was handed over to the fellowship and the General Service Conference was made an official part of Alcoholics Anonymous. As time has passed, the occurence of historical events has seemingly given way towards a celebration of AA History and a direction of what our purpose is in today’s world at each International Convention.
For months, I’ve wondered “what will we learn this time?” What opportunities will exist, what is the message that will come from the podium?
We’ll see, in short order. “We shall be with you in the Fellowship of the Spirit, and you will surely meet some of us as you trudge the Road of Happy Destiny.” (Alcoholics Anonymous pg 164, reprinted with permission) I hope to see you as you trudge the road to San Antonio!
- Does AA work for Atheists?
- Our Public Relations….Or Lack Thereof
- Dear Abbie, Is my wedge an acceptable replacement for my mindless troll sponsor?
- Good Information on This Years Conference.
- So THATS How It Works….
- AA is Spiritual?!?
- In Gratitude…..
- R U Anonymous?
- Live from the AA International: Observations
- Going to San Antonio with Alex A.
- International Convention-volunteering?
- Stay Close!