Rebellion Dogs our every step

Welcome to Rebellion Dogs Publishing: December 21st, 2014:

AAagnositca posted a Grapevine story about an A.A. apostate. Some of us come to believe in God(s) only to move on. Letting go of gods ought to be considered at least as spiritual as coming to believe. Read the story here and join the conversation that follows if you like.

The Santa Monica show is up and now you can order your own Mp3s or CDs Follow the link to order. And now, "Hear all about it!" The Santa Monica We Agnostics & Freethinkers International A.A. Conference (WA FT IAAC). Were' getting great feedback from this. We have keynote speaker highlight and more; it's so exciting Oh My Dog@!!!!! Also, you will see above that we have a new page called Rebellious Radio where all of our archives are kept. Feel free to rip, share, send or re-post as you see fit.

Ding, ding, ding. We just hit 2,500 Beyond Belief book sales in mid-December. Recent praise:
"Thanks so much for Beyond Belief! I am using it daily as part of my recovery support system and am appreciating the diversity of quotations and the comments on those quotations. I especially like the questions at the end which take me further into the material and inform my quiet times. Thanks for making the huge effort to put all that together. I really appreciate it." Kind regards, Pat H, United Kingdom

5 out of 5 stars: "Sometimes, the daily meditation books used in 12-step recovery programs seem a little too trite. This one, written for atheist and agnostics in the Fellowship, is a breath of fresh air. There is not a lot of bashing the God-talk; 'Live and Let Live' is applied, along with the fact that squabbling within the Fellowship compromises its primary mission. I recommend this highly for those in the atheist/agnostic camp or those looking for a change of scene. However, the selections are a bit too long for reading in meetings." JB, St. Louis MO

5 out of 5 stars: "Amazing, the index makes this deserve 10 stars! Wow buy a couple copies because you will want everyone in recovery to have this!" HB, Bashtop TX

"The author garners quotes from a wide range of writers and thinkers i.e. Socrates, Bertrand Russell, Scott Peck, Oprah Winfrey and Bill W. The author is clearly widely read, an autodidact and scholar of life, who asks probing and challenging questions as to what the reader is doing, thinking or practicing in their life. I have recommended Beyond Belief to clients who are attempting to lead a sober life as well as those who face the challenges of 'life'."  Wray Pascoe, Ph.D., Family Therapist  Clinical Fellow AAMFT

In 140 characters or less, we heard from United Church Minister, author and atheist Gretta Vosper from her Twitter Feed, @grettavosper:

"Phenomenal book you wrote. I have shared it often. Thank you for being so generous with your wisdom."

Thanks everyone who might be thinking about giving the gift of blaspheme for the holidays (Beyond Belief or other secular looks at 12 Step life).  E-books make a save-the-day choice for last minute shoppers. Check our bookstore page for our favorites.

REBELLION DOGS Says, "Who wouldn't want a gift card?" You can now buy an Amazon Gift Card for yourself or others - it's like the gift of knowledge.

In December 2009 Joe C had an article published in AA's Grapevine called Overhaul? Is our 20th century literature up for the task of aiding the 21st century newcomer? Hear it here. overhaul? AA Grapevine   More interestingly, hear the feed back here.  Grapevine Reader Replies
Beyond Belief reaches a new milestone. Rebellion Dogs thanks you for your support to spread the word so that Beyond Belief: Agnostic Musings for 12 Step Life hit the 2,400 units purchased in November.

Beyond Belief is continues to find its way to 100 more bedside tables, breakfast nooks and mobile devices each month. Thank-you from Rebellion Dogs. Check our Bookstore page for special. Homegroups: buy six, we will discount the book and cover shipping. Buy the eBook and paperback together for $20. Check for other specials.


Rebellion Dogs Radio Don't want to read the blogs? Click on the podcast button and listen on your computer, smartphone or any mobile device. We look at all kinds of issues in addiction and recovery - now with more bite and less dogma. Get Rebellion Dogs Radio theme music or browse other songs by The Chronicles HERE

Publisher-direct bulk order discounts for treatment professionals HERE.           KOBO offers Beyond Belief at  a discount, If you are akin to Kindles, get Beyond Belief on

Finally, Recovery Books for Nonbelievers, Freethinkers and Everyone
(welcome Counselor Magazine readers)

Order Beyond Belief from Amazon HERE.

Great eBook deals: Barnes & Noble have Beyond Belief available for $US10.19 and paperback for $17.22. Compare with Amazon for Kindle.

If you're a KOBO customer click HERE and find out how your purchase of our eBook can support your favorite independent book store.

Two books that belong together. If you visit or live in Toronto, North America's largest mental health book store is Caversham Booksellers at 98 Harbord, steps west of Spadina. You can find (and buy) Beyond Belief and The Little Book: A Collection of Alternative 12 Steps or anything you are looking for in addiction/recovery, psychotherapy, philosophy, science and religion. I find it hard to leave there empty handed. Drop in say "Hi," if you find yourself near Bloor and Spadina in Toronto, Canada.

Roger C's new book called, The Little Book: A Collection of Alternative 12 Steps is something I am quite excited about it. It is the ultimate mate to Beyond Belief; one is a daily reflection book and the other is a freethinker's workbook for the Twelve Steps. You can order it from our Beyond Belief page.

News and Blogs from Rebellion Dogs
From "A Newcomer Asks..." AA pamphlet p-24 Q: “There is a lot of talk about God, though, isn't there?”

A: The majority of A.A. members believe that we have found the solution to our drinking problem not through individual willpower, but through a power greater than ourselves. However, everyone defines this power as he or she wishes. Many people call it God, others think it is the A.A. group, still others don't believe in it at all. There is room in A.A. for people of all shades of belief and non-belief.
Twelve Steps and Twelve Traditions, William G. Wilson, page 27 “You can, if you wish, make A.A. itself your 'higher power.' Here's a very large group who have solved their alcohol problem. In this respect they are certainly a power greater than you, who have not even come close to a solution. Surely you can have faith in them. Even this minimum of faith will be enough.”

Check our links for great Freethinking places to go. The recovery community consists of 20 million addicts who have turned the corner on addiction to booze, drugs, sexual and romantic obsession, online-gaming, food, gambling, workaholism and more.

Beyond Belief: Agnostic Musings for 12 Step Life
Finally a daily reflection book for nonbelievers, freethinkers and everyone.


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Rebellion Dogs Radio Episode 9 - We Agnostics & Freethinkers International AA Conference in Santa Monica Podcast

Welcome to Rebellion Dogs Radio Episode IX where we bring you highlights of the first ever We Agnostics & Freethinkers International A.A. Conference from Santa Monica California, November 2014. So much content is available on this and we include many links included in this blog. Rebellion Dogs Radio # 9 will include segments from the keynotes given. Click on the link above or bellow to start listening. We have a teaser for Phyllis H., A.A. General Service Office GM, Marya H, author of Waiting: A Nonbeliever's Higher Power and Class A Trustee, Reverend Ward Ewing.

Workshops, Keynote Speakers , panels AA meetings from atheist/agnostic groups from around the world meant there was a rich program at WAFT IAAC and we can't get everything worth saying into one show. We'll continue to talk about this historical event in upcoming shows. The punchline, if you haven't heard is we're doing it again in 2016, We Agnostics, Atheists & Freethinkers International A.A. Conference will be in Austin Texas and we'll do it again, somewhere, every two years.

This wasn’t AA’s rogue nonbelievers off on their own; It was General Service Office (GSO), Conference delegates past and present from all over America, supporters who don’t doubt a loving God in their own life but believe in an AA that speaks the language of everyone with a desire to stop drinking. There were about 300 of us in Santa Monica November 6th to 8th. You'll hear segments form four of the talks recorded at the conference by Dave S. at Encore Audio Archives. You can buy your own mp3s or CDs at: 

I wondered what customs and rituals would be included and what AA customs and rituals would be excluded. While there isn’t any praying at most agnostic/atheist meetings, some read the Twelve Steps, some do not, some read a secular interpretation agreed upon by the ultimate authority in AA, their own group conscience. So it the interest of less is more, there were no readings, no chanting at any of the main-room meetings. Can you have an AA meeting without reading How It Works or praying for serenity? You sure can. And we did. No one in attendance wondered where they were. It was as AA as any meeting you’ve ever been to.

There were AA meetings hosted by secular AA meetings all around the world and they ran those meetings exactly how they run them in their own town. To A.A. fundamentalists who want to, or have, high-jacked their local Intergroups or AA local offices this chaos seems unusual. In places like Toronto where Intergroup still discriminates against agnostic groups and have replaced regional AA unity with AA uniformity, GSO is saddened by your bigotry. No one will tell you to get in line, be more loving and tolerant, practice the Traditions instead of your rigid view of what AA ought to be for all members or all groups. It will be left to your conscience, but listen along and ask yourself if our founders were alive today would they be more likely to be thanking you for discriminating against nonbeliever's AA groups; or would they be celebrating recovery, unity and service with us in Santa Monica?

Andrew Solomon is a New York Times writer and author of Far from the Tree: Parents, Children and the Search for Identity. Solomon says something in a Ted Talk that is so right-on for this historic weekend in Santa Monica:

“There is always someone there to take our humanity away and always someone to restore it. Oppression breeds the power to oppose it. Identity politics always works on two fronts. First it gives pride to someone who has given characteristics and secondly, it causes the outside world to treat such people more gently, more kindly.”

It is strangely that it is the tyranny of these rogue Intergroups and AA club houses that harass atheist AA members that we have to thank for this conference. As Solomon points out, while they try to take another's dignity or humanity away, they instead, help set in motion a fellowship wide reaction that celebrates We Agnostics & Freethinkers AA Conference. We enjoy the supported by the larger AA community while they look at discrimination in AA with concern. Oh the law of unintended consequences.

General Service Conference Chair Emeritus Reverend Ward Ewing (Pictured courtesy of Ken Sherry) talks about the traps of feeling like a phoney and the dangers of specific theology creeping into AA meetings under the guise of "spirituality."  GSO General Manager, Phyllis H. shares a few prime Bill W. writings and shares what other founders and trusted servants have said about both celebrating AA diversity and the dangers of dogmatic or rigid interpretations of AA's message. The author of Waiting: A Nonbelievers Higher Power, Marya H. is no stranger to Rebellion Dogs. We have a snippet of her talk included, too.

To those who know her, Marya was as poetic, prepared and thoughtful as we’ve come to enjoy. She was sincerely delighted to be part of this humble bit of AA history.  Marya’s story of one is one of being entirely ready when she ran thin on alcoholic bottoms, she was sincere and willing to do what might work—regardless of the suggestions compatibility with her worldview.  She acknowledged that the language of the Steps (ie: the God stuff) doesn’t talk to all of us and certainly falls short of giving answers. While she sees that people stay sober praying and turning it over, what was a nonbeliever to do to work the Steps?

In his whole talk Ward Ewing will describe the Hope, Honest, Belonging and Gratitude that he sees in the AA way of life. He tells some moving and humorous stories that this show doesn’t have the time to tell. A theme that Ward Started and delegates and members picked up on was that everyone in AA shares a common experience. He nailed it by describing our common AA experience as “when the impossible becomes possible.” Almost everyone in AA around the world would agree with that. When we add the adjective “spiritual” experience, now I don’t agree with your definition of spiritual or you’re offended with what I mean by it and now the experience that agreed upon just a moment ago, we don’t agree with anymore.Curious isn’t it, how the narcissism of small differences can be triggered by such an innocent word.

As the sun came down over Santa Monica Boulevard on the Friday night, Phyllis H. would close out with a lot of quotes from our founders and former Trustees. She was touched to be invited and We Agnostics and Atheists were moved that General Service Office was so supportive of us. It was truly healing. We started with Reverend Ward Ewing, the best friend an atheist or agnostic could have in AA. We conclude with Phyllis H. who personified the idea that together AA is better and everyone is welcome in AA and sobriety in AA possible without having to accept someone else’s beliefs or having to deny your own.

There was  a Conference Delegate’s panel and one of AA’s trusted servants made it clear that we can read anything we want in an AA meeting. Nothing is sacred and nothing is forbidden. Write our own literature, use conference approved literature or anything our group conscience dictates. There was a workshop on how to start your own meeting with a secular, humanist or or agnostic style, free of religion, God-talk and prayer. Over half of all atheist/agnostic groups today have started since 2010. We know of no faster growing segment of AA growth. The only limits are our own imagination.

Don't be surprised if AA's Literature Committee or Grapevine re-think literature for nonbelievers. In the meantime, WAAFTIAAC will be creating our own community, outreach and literature to ensure that whenever someone reaches out for help, the hand of AA will always be there.

Some links of interest.

Order form for CDs or MP3s from Encore Audio Archives

District 11, Area 34 newsletter, Camel Courier: Atheists and Agnostics will not give up on A.A.

Click for AA Agnostica Day One - Day Two - Day Three - Workshop Review (

Hear some more WAFT IAAC talks from Kansas We Agnostics YouTube page.

Joe C, as guest on KLĒN + SŌBR Podcast, talking to Chris and Jeff from Since Right Now (Episode 17, just before WAFT IAAC).


Rebellion Dogs Radio Episode 8 - Coping with ADHD or OCD Podcast

Dual-diagnoses: Addiction + OCD or ADHD and how to deal with it.
Rebellion Dogs Radio #8 features Dr. Tim Bilkey and professional rocker, Paul Nelson

Just listen by scrolling down and playing our embedded Radio player or click on the track above.

Download a PDF of Episode 8. This download complements the Radio Show. It doesn't follow it as a transcript exactly.
Attention Deficit Hyperactive Disorder, Obsessive Compulsive Disorder – what if you have these traits as well as addiction? Dr. Tim Bilkey and guitarist Paul Nelson are both guests on Rebellion Dogs Radio Episode 8 to help us tell the story of addiction comorbidity or dual diagnosis or double-winners if you prefer. Not to minimize or oversimplify but consider that being left-handed is not a disorder. We live in a world that is largely designed with right-handed advantages but left-handed people don’t need to fix their predisposition. We lefties might have to be a bit more proactive than righties. Though a minority in a right-handed world, not many of see ourselves as handicapped.

Though not by degree, the same holds true for those of us with OCD, ADHD or addiction for that matter; we don’t need an alcohol free world in which to thrive—we only need to make conscious adjustments to a world that sees no need to baby us. In these notes, we’ll look at how not to be a slave to these conditions. We’re not helpless. Some lefties will buy left-handed scissors, some will adjust to right handed scissors and others will train themselves to do certain tasks right-handed. There is help available for those of us who present with ADHD or OCD from self-help to cognitive behavioral therapy to medicine.  

Maybe as you’re reading you’re already doing a check list to evaluate yourself. Do you think you have any obsessive or compulsive symptoms beyond your obvious relationship with your drug(s) of choice? Are you chronically late, forgetful or do you have a hard time focusing on even the chores that are very important to you? What about others in your life?  Who would you label with ADHD or OCD? Let’s look at smoking; you either smoke or you know what it’s like to walk through the blue cloud as you enter the school, church or community center that is home to your 12-Step meeting. There’s a reason why there’s more smokers outside the AA or NA meeting than there is outside the book club, city council meeting or any other gathering that isn’t all-addicts. We’ll look at some definitions of Attention Deficit Hyperactivity Disorder and Obsessive Compulsive Order first: 

Attention Deficit Hyperactivity Disorder:

“ADHD is five to 10 times more common among adult alcoholics than it is in people without the condition. Among adults being treated for alcohol and substance abuse, the rate of ADHD is about 25%...
People with ADHD tend to be more impulsive and likely to have behavior problems, both of which can contribute to drug and alcohol abuse, researchers say. Also, both ADHD and alcoholism tend to run in families. A child with ADHD who has a parent with alcoholism is more likely to also develop an alcohol abuse problem. Researchers have pointed to common genes shared between ADHD and alcoholism.”
Obsessive Compulsive Disorder and addiction:
“OCD, is an anxiety disorder in which an individual experiences recurring thoughts that cause irrational fears and anxiety. Individuals with OCD engage in repeated, compulsive rituals, such as counting items, hand washing and organizing. Executing these rituals provides temporary relief while they are being performed, but the anxiety returns soon after they stop. OCD is a highly destructive disorder that can overtake the life of an individual and keep him from enjoying many life’s most rewarding activities.
The Journal of Anxiety Disorders estimates that over 25 percent of those who seek treatment for OCD also meet the criteria for a substance use disorder. Individuals who experience OCD symptoms for the first time in childhood or adolescence are more likely to develop a drug or alcohol problem, often as a way to cope with overwhelming anxiety and fear. Treating an addictive disorder without addressing the emotional symptoms of OCD is unlikely to be effective.”
Chapter Five of Alcoholics Anonymous describers those will struggle with the AA modality. In the 1939 language AA writers, “There are those, too, who suffer from grave emotional and mental disorders, but many of them do recovery if they have the capacity to be honest.”
There is more to grave emotional and mental disorders that simply Obsessive Compulsive Disorder and Attention Deficit Hyperactivity Disorder. But this is what we’re focusing on for this blog/radio show. To help tell this story, we invite to our show a psychiatrist who will relate to us his clinical experience, plus a professional guitar player who had a layperson’s firsthand experience managing his friend, guitar legend, Johnny Winter which included dealing with addiction and OCD.

Dr. Tim Bilkey (pictured) specialized is adult ADHD. He has two videos, ADHA Across The Lifespan and Her Fast Mind: An In Depth Look at ADHD as it affects Women. F.A.S.T. M.I.N.D.S. is an acronym that Tim Bilkey has developed to help test for ADHD. This 2013 co-authored book: Fast Minds: How to Thrive If You Have ADHD (Or think you do) is published by Harvard Health Publications.

Our second guest, guitarist Paul Nelson (pictured right of Johnny Winter), had a dream come true when he got to play with his childhood idol, Johnny Winter. Paul was asked to take over managing Johnnny and the band. In 2014, just after Johnny Winter’s 70th birthday Winter died while on a European tour as his career was experiencing a resurgence.  Before Johnny died director Greg Oliver completed, Johnny Winter: Down & Dirty, a documentary that Paul Nelson was executive producer for. The movie debuted at SXSW in March of 2014 and it includes appearances form brother Edgar Winter, Aerosmith’s Joe Perry, ZZ Top’s Bill Gibson, footage with BB King, Janis Joplin and plenty of fans in North America, Asia and Europe. We talk to Paul Nelson in the limo from Toronto International Airport to the Canadian debut of Johnny Winter: Down & Dirty as part of Toronto’s Reel Independent Film Festival in October, 2014.
Meanwhile, Dr. Tim Bilkey was addressing the Bellwood Health Services Many Faces of Addiction, at their 6th annual addiction symposium. Dr. Tim Bilkey was good enough to make time for us just as guests were arriving to a private party he was hosting. In typical Rebellion Dogs guerrilla-radio style, our interview was in the basement kitchen of Boland's Open Kitchen on Mt. Pleasant Road in Toronto.
Here is what the acronym FAST MINDS stands for. See if you identify:

F – Forgetful
A – Achieving below potential
S – Stuck in a rut
T – Time challenged
M – Motivationally challenged
I – Impulsive
N – Novelty seeking
D – Distractible
S – Scattered
In the book Fast Minds, Dr. Bilkey describes those of us with ADHD as having learning differences – not learning disabilities. Dealing with ADHD is a three-fold approach; Accommodation / Medication / Mindfulness. In Bilkey’s presentation to the Many Faces of Addiction delegates, the doctor disclosed his closeness to Big-Pharma; among his speaking commitments Dr. Bilkey is a spokesperson and consultant to some of the manufacturers of ADHD drugs. We talk in the radio interview about special considerations with medications when it comes to addicts.
For anyone with a 12-Step background, Bilkey unintentionally talks our language. He describes his book as self-help and I would describe it as easy reading. Like addiction recovery, a blend of talking personal responsibility and seeking outside help is required to thrive with ADHD. The Fast Minds approach draws on the three prerequisites that 12-Step modality draw on—honesty, open-mindedness and willingness. There is list making, not unlike personal inventories and our lists of people we have affected with our addiction. There are action steps like sharing our shortcomings with another and making amends. Fast Minds self-help treatment isn’t 12-Steps but the core principles we are familiar with do manifest themselves in Dr. Bilkey’s book.
The first three steps for success with ADHD are: awareness, decision, getting and accepting help. Doesn’t that have a Step One, Two, Three sound to it? Step one is to admit and accept (be aware of) our habits, choices and emotions. Acceptance is the key. Then in Step Two, we have to make a decision; we chose our priorities and identify the steps to get there. Step Three is to help ourselves. Beyond our immediate resources we seek out and engage the help we need. That could be professional help, medicine, electronic devices that help focus and organize us, and/or engaging friends and loved ones to give us feedback. We create an environment that accommodates our style. 

This step-by-step process isn’t so far off from admitting we have a problem that is making our lives unmanageable, come to believe that there is a better way and making a decision to seek and accept help. The fourth level (step) in what Bilkey calls the Pyramid for Success with Adult ADHD is to design your life with structure and accountability. We accept what we can’t change and have the personal responsibility to change the things we can.      

Every addict ought to identify with some aspects of obsessive-compulsive disorders. To be addicted is to be preoccupied and obsessed with our drug-of-choice. Process or substance addictions such as drinking, gambling or sexual compulsion, all have rituals and repetitive processes enslaving the addict insofar as we are more driven by our habits than by our free will. OCDs are activities that relieve anxiety. Duh—so does drinking. But like drinking the relief is short lived and the costs to the consequences or side-effects may get progressively worse.  

Does it seem hypocritical to you that people—be they bragging or exuding gratitude—talk of how they were spared from the ravages of addiction through a spiritual awakening while puffing on cigarettes that will likely cause premature death from a preventable habit? Let me back off a bit if I sound rigid or self-righteous. I want to be clear that there is a difference between a bad habit and chronic, unmanageable addiction. Some of us smoke and some of us eat more chips and ice cream than we’d like; but smoking and overeating doesn’t have us lying to our kids, parents and employers or going to jail for driving over the limit, committing sex crimes or selling narcotics.  
While some of us smoke and overeat and call it “living a little,” some of us wish we could control ourselves but can’t.  We aren’t blind to the consequences of unhealthy choices. Yes, we already endured the temptations and risks that face any addict/alcoholic who transitions from addiction to recovery; we made it through to the other side. It seems like a cruel joke that knowing what we know, achieving what we’ve achieved, we still can’t apply our knowledge and experience to stopping these other habits.
Just saying no to smoking is a simple act of willpower for some and a bafflingly ineffective to others. If we were the same, Charles Duhigg’s The Power of Habit or the best seller of the last generation, Stephen Covey’s The 7 Habits of Highly Effective People, or the Twelve Steps themselves, would convert everyone. The compromised life of bad habits would be swiftly traded for the fulfilling life of good habits—if it was just about desire and commitment. But books and Step don’t work for everyone and everything. OCD (and ADHD) can explain some of this. Paul Nelson talks of how a methadone-free Johnny Winter was a more obsessive/compulsive Johnny Winter. Freedom from addiction didn’t solve his problems, it exposed them. Johnny Winter had to go to therapy for OCD and so did the whole family and band. In the end, Nelson was frustrated that while Johnny Winter’s story had a happy ending in one sense, his life, career and the joy he brought to others was cut short because Paul could never help Winter quit smoking.
From above, we read a definition of obsessive-compulsive disorder and how it frequently makes fast friends with addiction. Some of who have had success in 12-Step recovery think we should be able to do it ourselves when it comes to emotional or mental health. We are reluctant to admit to ourselves that we are suffering if we see the 12-Steps as a cure-all. We may be reluctant to share this new setback with others. Shame doesn’t make it easier. We live in a society that loves to judge, celebrating our successes and also condemning us for falling short or not conforming to the norm.

In the UK, a community/charity helps lend support to OCD suffers. Here’ how OCD UK frames the challenges to, and benefits of, seeking help:
“When you first see a health care professional about your symptoms, it is very important that you are honest and open about your thoughts and behaviours, no matter how embarrassing they may seem. Almost certainly, they have heard it all before – and by being honest, you will help them to identify the most suitable treatment for you.
Many OCD sufferers have depression and thoughts about harming themselves or others, and for some suicidal thoughts are also a feature – it is important to discuss these feelings openly and honestly.
Also, many people with OCD, especially those with thoughts of a physical, sexual or harmful nature, are fearful of the consequences if they tell anyone about what goes on their heads. Whilst we generally encourage people with OCD to be honest and open about their thoughts and symptoms, you may wish to talk with your GP or therapist in general terms first of all until you feel comfortable that they actually understand OCD. Generally, most therapists that do understand OCD will have heard your story many times before, and will probably read between the lines and will help you by asking direct questions which will make it easier for you to open up.”
It is not surprising that Cognitive Behavioral Therapy is a natural choice for sufferers of OCD. While some medicines can help some suffers relieve their anxiety, for those of us who are pill-adverse, there can be lasting benefit from CBT. The automatic thoughts and feelings and especially the extreme of anxiety and depression can be mitigated by the thought (and feeling) records that are part of the thinking/feeling/behaving inventory of the CBT process. OCD patients might just apply their OCD to the CBT, replacing an unproductive habit with the positive activity of understanding and monitoring the cycle of thoughts, feelings and actions that we are trying to be more conscious of. In Paul’s story of how he helped transition Johnny Winter (pictured above with Jimi Hendrix) from negative to positive habits, he joked that Johnny could get as committed to a healthy vanilla milkshake as he could to his methadone or nicotine dependency.   

While Dr. Bilkey’s tool kit will surely be a permanent part of my own self-help it will also have a long shelf-life on my recommended readings for fellow travellers I talk to or work with. Another book that I recommend whenever it’s appropriate is Gabor Maté’s Scattered Minds. While Tim Bilkey’s Fast Minds is more current, one feature of Gabor Maté’s writing style is his sharing of his personal journey.

Gabor Maté was diagnosed with Attention Deficit Disorder by the medical health practitioner that was working with his affected children. Like addiction, AD(H)D is often hereditary. The Maté book blends the clinical explanation with his first-hand personal accounts of his struggle. Like the 12-Step fellowship approach, Maté shares his troubles in this 1999 book.
He writes:
"Where they know it or not, a large number of people addicted to behaviors and substances of various sorts have attention deficit disorder, no matter what their proclivity may be: for gambling, compulsive sexual roving, chronic impulsive buying, workaholism, excessive physical training, danger-seeking pursuits, like drag racing or for nicotine or cocaine, alcohol or marijuana. As an example, according to some surveys, the rate of smoking among the ADD population is three times that among the non-ADD population.
It is easy to understand the appeal addictive substances would have for the ADD brain. Nicotine, for one, makes people more alert and improves mental efficiency. It also elevates mood, by stimulating, the release in the brain of neurochemicals dopamine, important in feeling of reward and motivation, and endorphins, the brain’s natural opioids, which induce feelings of pleasure. The endorphins, being related in chemical structure to morphine, also serve as analgesics, soothing both physical and emotional pain."
In Scattered Minds, Maté gets very personal with us:
"Terrified of my mind, I had always dreaded spending a moment alone with it. There always had to be a book in my pocket as an emergency kit in case I was every trapped waiting anywhere, even for one minute, be it a bank lineup or supermarket checkout counter. I was forever throwing my mind scraps to feed on, as if to a ferocious and malevolent beat that would devour me the moment it was not chewing on something else. All my life I had known no other way to be.
The shock of self-recognition many adults experience on learning about ADD is both exhilarating and painful. It gives coherence, for the first time, to humiliations and failures, to plans unfulfilled and promises unkept, to gusts of manic enthusiasm that consume themselves in their own mad dance, leaving emotional debris in their wake, to the seemingly limitless disorganization of activities, of brain, car, desk, room.
ADD seems to explain many of my behaviour patterns, thought processes, childish emotional reactions, my workaholism and other addictive tendencies, the sudden eruption of bad temper and complete irrationality, the conflicts in my marriage and my Jekyll and Hyde way of relating to my children.
The driven and hyperfunctioning workaholic tries to delude himself that he must be very important, since so many people want him. His frenetic activity numbs him to emotional pain and keeps his sense of inadequacy out of sight, out of mind. During a group psychotherapy session a few years ago, I heard one of the leaders say that a truly important person is one who considers himself worthy enough to grant himself at least one hour each day that he can call his own. I had to laugh. I realized I had worked so hard and make myself so ‘important’ that I couldn’t beg, borrow or steal a minute for myself.
There is one major respect in which the specific neurophysiological impairments of ADD do hinder the development of a cores sense of self and the attainment of self-esteem. … The fluctuations are greater and more rapid than most people’s experiences. It seems there is less to hold on to. Self-esteem does require a degree of self-regulation, which the neurophysiology of ADD sabotages. The child or adult easily flung into extremes of emotion and behavior does not acquire the mastery over impulses that self-esteem demands.”

If you’re in the 12-Step community you may or may not suffer from ADHD; but you’re going to encounter your fair share of those of us who are OCD or ADHD in the rooms. Fast Minds is written in plain language, it uses anecdotal case histories. It has practical ideas that I found helps me deal more consciously and less reactively to the FAST MINDS symptoms I live with. Again, the videos are ADHD Across the Lifespan and Her Fast Mind: An In Depth Look At ADHD As It Affects Women.
The movie Johnny Winter: Down & Dirty or the new record Step Back which was posthumously released September 2nd 2014 are part of the legacy of Johnny Winter (February 23, 1944 – July 16, 2014). Watch this doc, listen to this record. The Johnny Winter story is a good-news story. It portrays addiction and mental health as a process—not an event—in the lives of people like us. The legacy of music, which is dozens of studio, live and compilation records from 1968 to 2014, is a reminder to me that we need not see mental health conditions (OCD in Winter’s case) as a handicap; look how productive and successful Johnny Winter was. Again, it’s like being left-handed. I’m left handed. I play guitar; it’s no handicap; it requires slight adjustments.
Most left-handed guitarists adjust by using guitars that are strung left handed. Like the righty guitars, lefty guitars have the thickest wound string is at the top of the guitar neck and the thinnest unwound string at the bottom. That’s what Paul McCartney does and that’s what Jimi Hendrix did.
I play a right-handed guitar upside down. The thin string is at the top and the thickest string at the bottom. I didn’t know anyone famous who did this but later I found several – some indie musicians, some casual players and some stars. Is it a handicap? Well most chords are designed for playing the other way around. All music books that teach music have to be transcribed (interpreted) and some songs just can’t be duplicated to sound the way a right-handed person would play a right-handed guitar.
Limits also bring opportunities. Surf-rock legend Dick Dale made his idiosyncrasy an advantage creating unforgettable sounds that favor an upside-down lefty. Blues man Albert King was an upside-down lefty. He preferred the Gibson Flying-V design guitar (over the more popular Gibson Les Paul or Fender Stratocaster) because it presents no handicap playing the high notes when you turn it upside down. Canadian, Mark Gane of Martha and The Muffins wasn’t handicapped when he wrote hit songs “Echo Beach,” “White Station/Black Station” or “Women Around the World at Work.” 
I didn’t know it when I started but I wasn’t alone as an upside-down lefty. Lots of guitars that went before me found ways to accommodate. I am sure many more lefties learned to play right-handed, too. I did it so that I could play anyone else’s guitar and they could play mine. I don’t need a handicap sticker on my guitar case.
Being an alcoholic doesn’t exclude us from society. Some will choose dry gatherings over bars or other licensed surroundings. Some sober alcoholics are bar-tenders and do their job their own way but just as well as any of their colleagues. For many more, it’s not black and white. Before going to a wedding or to watch the big game at a sports bar we check our motives and see if we’re emotionally and mentally fit. The world will go on if we feel that we need to cancel.
The same is true with mental health issues. Like other disorders, ADHD and OCD come in light, medium and extreme versions. Some of us will have more limits forced upon us than others. All of us can benefit from learning more, being willing and seeking help when necessary.
Johnny Winter trailer DOWN & DIRTY
Johnny Winter music
Tim Bilkey
Fast Minds: How to Thrive if You have ADHD (Or think you might)
Scattered Minds
Bellwood Health Services
OCD & Addiction
Just for fun (upside-down lefties)
Albert King jamming with Stevie Ray Vaughan Albert was an upside-down lefty and Stevie was a Texas blues-man like Johnny. Stevie Ray Vaughan got clean and sober and died tragically in a helicopter accident at the age of 35 (1993) while on tour with Eric Clapton.
Martha & The Muffins (with Mark Gane) "Echo Beach"
[iv] Mate, Gabor M.D., Scattered Minds: The Origins and Healing of Attention Deficit Disorder. Toronto: Vintage Canada (Edition), 2012 p. 298
[v] IBID p. 4

The Big Book: Sacred or outdated? What AA Stewards, past and present say about progress vs protection Podcast

The Big Book of Alcoholics Anonymous - On one side are the thumpers, muckers and literalists who claim than no modality has touched the healing force of the Twelve Steps as outlined in Alcoholics Anonymous. On the other side, reformers say it's misogynistic, religious, archaic, while it was a good start to the mutual-aid discussion, as the center-piece of any AA meeting today, it makes us look Amish-like, declining modern customs for the ways of our ancestors.

I have been in the middle of these debates. But today I ask, what does it matter? If you like the book, read it from Foreword to 164, over and over. If you don't, leave it be. Recommend that your group read something else, or nothing at all. Or maybe we should talk about a new book instead of a revised book - either/or instead of one or the other.

If you don't like back-to-basics style of AA, get REALLY back-to-basics with AA as an oral tradition, no book, a one-day-at-a-time program of showing up, opening up, helping others. There is no need to feel persecuted by a book that has no opinion on your impression of it and no wish to control you. The authors didn't canonize the founders or make the text sacred; my generation did that. Sorry - our bad.

Stewardship is about two roles - preparing and protecting. Ask any parent how hard it is to be good at both. On Episode Seven, we look at the opinions of trusted servants who have served at AA's General Service Conference in the 1980s, the turn of the century and current (Panel 63 General Service Conference). We will hear a plea for AA to always be progressive, to never rest on our laurels. We will hear the protective argument about how imaginative personalization of an age-old-process is sacrilege. One side says rigidity will cause the death of AA. The other side says experimentation isn't worth the risk. Bill Wilson said that both progress and protection were what he had in mind with the Twelve Traditions. "You can't have one without the other."

Sources used in today's radio show:
Better Times (Toronto September 2014) "Don't mess with the message"
Bob P's (1961 to 1986) "If you were to ask me what is the greatest danger facing A.A. today, I would have to answer: the growing rigidity -- the increasing demand for absolute answers to nit-picking questions; pressure for G.S.O. to "enforce" our Traditions; screening alcoholics at closed meetings; prohibiting non-Conference-approved literature, i.e., "banning books"; laying more and more rules on groups and members."
John K, 2003: "Our co-founders were pragmatists - try something,test it, change it, review it, test it, then change, review,test it again."

You will hear about our need for protection, of progress too, and how challenging it is to gain balance and consensus on both.

At the time of recording we have Southern Californian on our mind as the We Agnostics and Freethinkers International Conference of Alcoholics Anonymous is coming to Santa Monica November 6 to 8. So we invite LA newcomer Mia Dyson to perform her song, "Idyllwild," her little patch of Southern California.

Visit Pod-0-matic to hear or download the show:

For a transcript of Episode VII, click HERE

Rebellion Dogs Book Club: Podcast 6 talks about good reads Podcast

Get your reading spectacles on – It’s Book Club time!Podcast #6 looks at great recovery books that widen our gateway.

On you will find a bookstore. We’re talking about reading on this blog-post (and podcast). Not only is planet Earth’s first secular daily reflection book, Beyond Belief: Agnostic Musings for 12 Step Life available in our book store but many eBooks and hard-copy books by and for addicts/alcoholics/codependents are available.

As 12-Steppers, we are all readers/listeners and we are all storytellers or writers. It was flattering and fascinating for us to read Not God: A History of Alcoholics Anonymous because Ernie Kurtz isn’t one of us. He is observing us and telling us and the whole world what he sees.

Chuck Palahniuk is an author we associate with fiction. He wrote Fight Club. He has a 2004 book called Stranger than Fiction: True Stories. In his introduction he talks about the similarities of crafting a true story and a fictional story. He studied us, too. Palahniuk attended self-help groups for those who suffered from various sicknesses and addictions. When we think about the relevance of reading about our stories or about telling our stories, there is value in hearing what outsiders say about our oral tradition of carrying the message. Chuck Palhniuk describes twelve-step groups (or other support groups) in this way:

“…they’ve come to serve the role that organized religion used to. We used to go to church to reveal the worst aspects of ourselves, our sins. To tell our stories. To be recognized. To be forgiven. And to be redeemed, accepted back in to our community. This ritual was our way to stay connected to people, and to resolve our anxiety before it could take us so far from humanity that we would be lost.
“In these places I found the truest stories. In support groups. In hospitals. Anywhere people had nothing left to lose, that’s where they told the most truth…
“While researching my fourth book, Choke, I sat in on sex-addicts talk therapy sessions, twice each week for six months. Wednesday and Friday nights.
“In so many ways, these rap sessions weren’t much different that the Thursday-night writers’ workshop I attended. Both groups were just people telling their stories. The sexaholics might’ve been a little less concerned about “craft,” but they still told their stories of anonymous bathroom sex and prostitutes with enough skill to get a good reaction from their audience. Many of these people had talked in meetings for so many years that hearing them, you heard a great soliloquy. A brilliant actor paying him- or herself. A one-person monologue that showed an instinct for slowly revealing key information, creating dramatic tension, setting up payoffs and completely enrolling the listener. …
“Telephone sex lines, illness support groups, twelve-step groups, all these places are schools for learning how to tell a story effectively. Out loud. To people. Not just to look for ideas, but how to perform.
“We live our lives according to stories. About being Irish or being balck. About working hard or shooting heroin. Being male or female. And we spend our lives looking for evidence—facts and proof—that support our story. As a writer, you just recognize that part of human nature.”

One of the things we notice when we look at AA’s new pamphlet, “Many Path’s to Spirituality,” the publication doesn’t try to define spirituality. It draws from the experience of spirituality expressed from a few very varied storytellers of different creedal and cultural backgrounds and it expresses that not only is there no wrong way to do AA, but that there isn’t even a preferred way to get and stay sober a’la Alcoholics Anonymous. It talks about many paths to experiencing spirituality without feeling obligated to defining it. Ours is an oral (or written) tradition of sharing our experiences. AA has been either lucky or wise in never hand-cuffing ourselves to a definition of addiction nor a definition of recovery. We describe how it looks and feels to each other. And that, is good enough. Certainly, it’s as good as it gets in the rooms of 12-Step recovery.

Listen to the podcast for a review of these books, available as eBooks or hard-copies.

My Name is Lillian and I’m an Alcoholic (and an Atheist):
A Skeptics Guide to the 12 Steps (1990) by Philip Z Vince Hawkings books include An Atheist’s Unofficial Guide to AA

Waiting: A Nonbeliever’s Higher Power by Marya Hornbacher.

A Freethinker in Alcoholics Anonymous is by author, John Lauritsen

Beyond Belief: Agnostic Musings for 12 Step Life & The Little Book: A Collection of Alternative 12 Steps are available at a discount when ordering six or more copies.

So there’s a glimpse into what’s on my bookshelf. Feel free to stockpile or order one-a-moth from or, if you have a favorite bookstore, they can order any of these. Let us know what we’re missing and/or should be talking up.
There have been some books that I have read and wouldn’t recommend. I stick to the, “If you don’t have anything nice to say, don’t say anything at all” motto. That’s a rule I will break, but you really have to inspire me with stubbornness or stupidity for me to rant away with a counter-point. The book The Sober Truth (Episode Four) was one of these examples.

A PDF transcript of this show is available HERE. Come back and visit any time after August 8th. Enjoy the (Rebellion) Dog Days of summer.

Boyhood: Cinematic clues to life, maturity, family & values 

A boy says, “Mommy, when I grow up, I want to be a songwriter.” The Mother smiles and replies, “Now darling, you know you can’t do both.”

“Rebellion dogs our every step” in our constant quest of self-improvement. Sometimes it’s time to put the pop-psychology books aside and look for answers elsewhere. In this blog-post we visit the film, music, comedy and art festival, North By North East to see what we might see. NXNE was stoked to host Richard Linklater’s 12-years-in-the-making, Boyhood with Ethan Hawke and Patricia Arquette (June 14th, 2014). It was set for theatrical release in July. We are introduced to Lorelei Linklatter who plays sister/daughter, “Samantha,” and Ellar Coltrane (pictured) as son/brother “Mason.” The story follows two kids from a broken home. The movie is filmed with the same actors over a series of shoots spanning twelve years—the boyhood of Mason who grows from age six to eighteen before our movie-viewing eyes. Rotten Tomatoes fans treat this three-hour epic a better than nine out of ten rating.

Honestly, my first impression (reaction) was that while Boyhood is a movie of heart-warming moments, I felt that guilt. That guilt is the white, male developed world privilege guilt that comes from passively nodding along with another Hollywood movie whereby female roles are props that support a well crafted male character’s tale. Why wasn’t the movie called, Childhood? Wasn’t the experience happening to the boy the same for the girl over twelve years?

Director Maximón Monihan, was in Toronto for NXNE to screen La Voz de los Silenciados (The Voice of the Voiceless). Having seen Boyhood for the second time, he offered me these clues. “Linklater is a bit of a jock so maybe he is isn’t as comfortable writing female parts. Maybe he just writes what we knows best. And the girl was played by his daughter so maybe he thought it would be gauche to portray her character in a more dramatic way.” Still, I thought, making a movie over 12 years, you get all the second chances you could ever dream of. What was I missing? I followed the markers in the story and it took me until the next morning to add them all together.
La Voz de los Silenciados (The Voice of the Voiceless)
Setting aside my guilty conscience, I came to see that this is a movie about male-hood. Manhood is a hard role to pull off with unanimous approval. Ethan Hawke’s character was a boy-father, under-developed and finding himself on the wrong side of the Patricia Arquette character’s underwhelmed report card. He became the classic absentee father. He returns to his kids’ lives but is unwelcome in the role of second-chance husband. He becomes Disneyland-dad, doing what he can to enrich his kids’ lives with encouragement, camping, roughhousing, bowling and important talks. Hawke’s character is still chasing the dream of a singer/songwriter, resisting the sell-out of a paper-pushing day job. Still, he takes some courses, gets his actuarial license and settles into a job with an insurance company because, “life is expensive.”

Arquette’s character introduces the audience to a small parade of second and third choice father-figure partners that go from Prince Charming to over-controlling drunkard over a series of scenes. As with the lead male characters, none of the males in the movie ever ace the role of manhood in the eyes of those whose judgment matters. The male characters are more akin to aging boyhood. It’s a movie of tragic flaws. Like the Goldilocks story, everyone’s too rigid or too chaotic—no one’s just right. It’s a movie of donkeys chasing carrots they never get to taste. It’s a taste of real-life.

Boyhood is a movie about the days in the life of a boy, looking for clues from what promises remain from the American dream. As a sociology project it is all this and more. We explore the incompleteness and imperfection of our own humanity. The audience is complicit, watching with the same lofty expectations of manhood. In an era of super-hero movies this ain’t one of them. The movie poster is so obvious—once the penny drops. We see a boy looking at his father through a magnifying glass—how cute; how telling.

As a first run movie it will do what it does; I wish it all the success. As a lesson in sociology, this film will have the shelf life of a Catcher in the Rye or Gulliver’s Travels. The kids grow into adults in this movie, learning their lessons from both mom and dad. Hawke’s character grows into the man—the father—that Arquette wanted him to be. Ethan Hawke played a guitar pickin’ songwriter who must have had some appeal to Arquette’s character for the purposes of breeding, didn’t meet the standard from her expectation as a provider. How could he grow up and be a songwriter at the same time?

The movie is called Boyhood because it is as much about Hawke’s character’s perpetual boyhood, as it is about Mason’s evolution. Parenthood is something we catch up to; we don’t prepare for it. Manhood comes as boyhood wanes but without the clarity of values and purpose that we expect. Hawke’s great fatherly
advice comes with love and humor throughout the move. Later in the flick, as Mason is learning to drive, we are treated to this pithy philosophy for life. “Be aware of three cars ahead and two behind you. Remember, it takes two bad drivers to cause an accident.”

Boyhood: See it with someone who matters

Other notable considerations from NXNE courtesy of
Vann “Piano Man” Walls was a composer/piano player working for Atlantic Records. Walls song credits are legendary even if he never became a household name. The documentary follows Walls’ history, the story of African American (Race music) musicians and includes cameos by Ry Cooder, Johnny Winter and Leon Russell. Vann "Piano Man" Walls - The Spirit of R&B
This gothic comedy out of the UK is a tale of an accidental serial killer born of black-comedic clumsiness. It’s quirky; it’s worth; it's called Whoops!
Let’s Ruin It is the tale of the RVIP Lounge, a mobile karaoke bar and the people who keep the party going. NXNE was the international debut for the movie. Kestrin Pantera, the writer, director and star is no stranger to Toronto as she has been a cellist for Beck, Weezer and emerging indie rock bands. See a trailer to Lets Ruin It With Babies
Riot on the Dance Floor is a must see as part of any music enthusiasts rock 'n' roll education about Do-It-Yourself work ethic. This story of Randy Now and City Garden (Trenton NJ) is a seminal expose of how punks and metal heads pioneered the music scene of the 21st century. 
Nirvana, Dead Kennedys, D.O.A., But Hole Surfers, Ween, R.E.M. The Ramones and Black Flag all played there.

See a trailer to Riot on the Dance Floor

Quiet Riot drummer Frankie Banali and director Regina Russell were onsite at Hot Docs Theatre in Toronto for the debut of Well Now You're Here, There's No Way Back - The Quiet Riot Movie.

You don't have to into the band or the scene to appreciate this story of sex, drugs, rock 'n' roll, the consequences and the compulsion that drives both addiction and creativity.
The Uncluded is an American alternative hip hop group, formed by rapper Aesop Rock and singer-songwriter Kimya Dawson. Their animated video Organs considers the painful process of grief and grace surrounding organ donation. See Organs HERE
Director and musician (Hot Panda) Chris Connelly had two quirky animated shorts at NXNE. Two back up dancers from the Van Halen video for “Panama” reunite 30 years later, only to find out that their lives have gone in two very different directions. See Panama trailer.

Actor Ryan Beil attempts to get into the Guinness Book of World Records by listing all twenty two Canadian Prime Ministers in three seconds. See the entire The Prime Minister Challenge.


Get your Pride On, AA: What AA can learn from World Pride Podcast

Read, view or print as a PDF
For 30 years, Toronto has celebrated lesbian, gay, bisexual, transsexual & queer (LGBTQ) Pride. This year, Toronto was host to Word Pride. According to the World Pride Toronto website the full diversity of celebrants June 22 to 29th, 2014 is an estimated attendance of over 1.2 million people honoring the history, courage, diversity and future of Toronto’s (and the world’s) LGBTTIQQ2SA communities. The full acronym includes: Lesbian, Gay, Bisexual, Transsexual, Transgender, Intersex, Queer/Questioning, 2 Spirited, Allies.[i]

What can 12-Step based societies learn from World Pride? Are we ahead of or behind the curve in terms of inclusivity and anti-discrimination? Let’s have a look.
Over 100 same-sex couples, who came to Toronto for World Pride, got legally hitched while they were here because same-sex marriages aren’t recognized where they live. Lesbian Premier of Ontario (Y’all have Governors of States; we have Premiers of Provinces), Kathleen Wynne, was out for the parade. What’s so civilized about Canadian politics is an extension of what is healthy about Canadian society. Our heads of state are not subject to narrow questions like, “What’s going to be different for Ontario with a queer Premier?” or “How does being a lesbian affect your policy making?” Premier Wynne was grilled about her policies and service record in the recent election but I don’t remember any member of the media asking her about her sexuality. After all, they don’t ask other politicians what they do in the bedrooms or back alleys of our nation.
The Pride Parade finished just before a summer storm hit Toronto and Pride concluded in the streets of Toronto, graced by a rainbow that stretched across the sky.

That’s what a harassment-free, discrimination-free society can look like; within the society, people are sexually diverse but neither right nor wrong. We are straight but not narrow,LGBTQ—out, closeted or discreet if you prefer. Be proud or conflicted. Neither is abnormal and neither is reserved for any gender identification or sexual orientation bias. Toronto Ontario Canada isn’t in a state of happy-ever-after. There is still discrimination, harassment and issues that deserve attention and compassion. To many who visited here last week, Toronto is a breath of fresh air. “To come from such a conservative city where we live in Erie, to here where it is such an amazing, amazing display of people and humanity,” Kathy Czarnecki-Smith told CBC News.[ii]

World Pride week got me thinking about what diversity and inclusion can look like. It’s all fine and good to have someone from AA say, “This is Joe from the Beyond Belief group—you know—that group for atheists and agnostics.” Why not just say, “This is Joe from the Beyond Belief group”? Every designated other through AA history has gone through it: she’s an alcoholic—how shameful; We’d like to help the negro alcoholic but we have our reputation to think of; He’s an alcoholic but he’s so young; Pete’s an addict; who can blame him, being gay and all. That is a slice of real life in our 75 year history. So why should AA members with a natural, not a supernatural, worldview be any different? In tribes, like AA or any other subcultures, the majority marginalize the minority, be it intentional or systemic? Today, typical statements towards members who reject the sobriety-granting God idea, include, “How do you stay sober without God? That sounds like a dry-drunk. Keep coming honey, you’ll get it eventually.”

A highlight at the 1985 World Conference of Alcoholics Anonymous in Montreal, was a talk given by Barry L about our Traditions and great strides made between AA and our relationship with the LGBTQ community. At a gay and lesbian meeting, attended by about one thousand members, Barry recalls, “We weren’t in closets; we were sealed in vaults.” Barry L was making light of when he got sober 40 years earlier, when AA was in our early years and homosexuals were considered to be sexual deviants. In 1945 there was no Gay Pride. There was secrecy. Our Third Tradition suggests to members and groups who can join Alcoholics Anonymous. Membership is not granted; it is an inherent right to anyone with a desire to stop drinking.
Twelve Steps and Twelve Traditions (The 12 & 12) presents 24 essays by Bill W about our Steps and Traditions. In the essay on Tradition Three, “The only requirement for A.A. membership is a desire to stop drinking,” there are three examples that tested our seemingly reckless inclusivity in the early years.
There is the story of a man whom Bill called “Ed.” We know this to be loosely Jim B’s story—the defiant atheist who thought AA would be better without all this God malarkey. He offended many members who wanted him out. And they were about to cast out the one for the betterment of the many. The story goes as follows:

The elders led Ed aside. They said firmly, “You can’t talk like this around here. You’ll have to quit it or get out.” With great sarcasm Ed came back at them. “Now do tell: Is that so?” He reached over to a bookshelf and took up a sheaf of papers. On top of them lay the Foreword to the book Alcoholics Anonymous, then under preparation. He read aloud, “The only requirement for A.A. membership is a desire to stop drinking.” Relentlessly, Ed went on, “When you guys wrote that sentence, did you mean it, or didn’t you?”

Dismayed, the elders looked at one another, for they knew he had them cold. So, Ed stayed.[iii]

Ed, or Jim B., not only stayed but he helped establish AA in both Baltimore and Philadelphia. He lived sober, outliving both official cofounders. In the 12 & 12, there is a second story of a sexual deviant who sought refuge in Akron AA. In a talk Bill gave at his 35th year of continuous sobriety, he expands on this Third Tradition story:

For example, a fellow came to Dr. Bob and said, “I’m an alcoholic; here is my history. But I also have this other ‘complication.’ Can I join A.A.?” Bob threw it out to all the other deacons, while the poor guy waited.

Finally, there was some kind of hearing on it among the self-appointed elders. I remember how perfectly Bob put it to them. He reminded us that most of us were practicing Christians. Then he asked, “What would the Master have thought? Would He have kept this man away?” . . . The man came in, was prodigious worker, and was one of our most respected people.
So, out of antecedents like this one, our Third Tradition was born: that any person having a drinking problem—if he says so—is entitled to join A.A., and nobody can deny him this right. This, indeed, is a great irony—enormous freedom welling up out of grief and slavery to the bottle.”

Imagine asking the question, “What members or groups would Jesus have us exclude from AA?” That’s the standard Dr. Bob asked the God-fearing deacons to measure their actions by.

Another story is told from Barry L’s firsthand account as he was answering the phone and minding the door to the 41st Street (AA) clubhouse. In Barry’s 1985 talk[v], he recalls:

One of the chores you could do is answering the phone, sitting at the desk and greeting visitors. One day a policeman on the corner sent in to see us, a black man. That in itself was unusual in Manhattan in 1945. We had no black AA members then; we did not really start seeing black members in AA until 1946. But the black man came in and he had long blonde hair, a-la Veronica Lake. He was also a master cosmetician. He was a wonder with a brush on his face. He was absolutely beautiful. Strapped to his back were all his worldly belongings. He said he was just released from prison and he needed help. He began to tell us his problems. Among other things, he was homosexual and he was a dope-fiend. . . I asked a number of the older members who had been around for some time “what should I do?” and they all left. No all, I shouldn’t say that. One dear old soul—a gal named Fanny—stayed and really tried to help the man.

But she didn’t get too far; she didn’t really know the answer to this so I thought I would call the man who had been sober the longest. So I put some coffee down for the man and I called Bill. I told him the story, “We don’t really know what to do, he needs all kinds of help. Bill listened and then he was quiet for a few moments and then Bill said, “Did you say this man is a drunk?” Oh yes, we could all tell that, instantly. “Well,” said Bill, “then I think that’s the only question we have any right to ask.”
(Thunderous applause from the Montreal audience).
Montreal Canada hosted the 1985 World Conference of Alcoholics Anonymous

Also, when Barry was almost a year sober, he tells the story of how three AA women took him to lunch to talk with Bill about the ideas of special groups for gays and for lesbians. Barry recalls that Bill said that this could be the best thing to come down the pipe, but he wasn’t sure. Could Barry come and see him again when he was 18 months sober? At that time Bill thought both Barry and he could think about the matter more. Barry never did return to have that talk because by the time he was 18 months sober, there were so many gays and lesbians it hardly seemed necessary.

Under the employ of Alcoholics Anonymous, Barry was a staff writer. He wrote Living Sober and the pamphlet Do You Think You’re Different? He also recorded the General Service Conference and wrote the General Service Conference Report. By the early 1970s there were many groups/meetings for gays and lesbians. Barry tells the story of this significant crossroad:

It was my job in 1973 and 1974 to write the Conference Report and those were the two years that the question of listing lesbian and gay groups arose.

That came about from some pressure from some wonderful people in Southern California. All kinds of wonderful things come out of Southern California. They wanted to list themselves as gay groups or lesbian groups and the General Service Office, of course, has a very ticklish job. They really shouldn’t do anything that hasn’t been done before, without direction from the General Service Conference. So, they brought it to the Conference to decide and it was debated in 1973 to some hot length and finally the chair, getting very smart, said, “I think we’ll table the question to next year.” But that put it on the agenda for next year so everyone knew about it and it would have to be settled the next year.

If you don’t know what the General Service Conference is, ask your sponsor. The Conference has absolutely no power over any of us—not one bit. It has the power of example, it has some moral authority, but that’s all. The Conference does not like to do anything by halves or even by bare majority. The Conference proceeds generally on almost complete unanimity.

So in 1974, in the Conference, the question went back and forth, back and forth for two days and two nights. Much of the agenda was wiped out. I remember one man said, “If you are going to list the sex deviants this year, next year you’ll list the rapist [groups].” Someone else said something like if you’re going to list this kind of deviant, what other type of deviant are you going to list?

The delegate from one of the Northern States—or maybe it was a Canadian Province, I am not sure—was a delightful woman about three feet tall and she went to one of the middle microphones. She pulled the microphone down to her mouth and said, “Where I come from, alcoholics are considered deviants. (Laughter and cheering from the audience)

The debate went on but when the vote came that night, only two voted against it. It was almost unanimous; I think it was 129 to two.

January 20, 1961, in the presidential inauguration, John F. Kennedy referred to the American Constitution of a century and three quarters prior, stating that human rights were not granted by the generosity of the state but from all mighty God. I imagine Bill W, like many US citizens, listened to, or may have even seen—JFK being the first every TV presidency—this speech. One could imagine AA’s founders reflected on the structure of our fellowship as a society. Ours is a society whereby rights and freedoms are expected. AA protects the rights of members and groups through servitude—not leadership or governance.

It isn’t lost on me that, constitutionally, my rights as an unbeliever are granted by God. What is meant by this? To suggest that if one denies God, one would forgo their human rights bestowed by Him is narrow, if not flawed reasoning. Human rights must be respected by one another. Basic human rights to dignity and freedom are beyond the scrutiny of others. So while atheists ought to respect a believer’s right to worship, the believers ought to respect the freethinker’s right to govern themselves in accordance to their own conscience.

In Canada, as in the USA, everyone has the rights and freedoms of conscience, religion, thought, belief, expression, peaceful assembly and association. Bringing it back to our AA fellowship, these rights that are beyond challenge of critical finger pointers are bestowed upon members and our groups.

We have discussed the individual and how our history shows that, when faced with others that are unfamiliar to us, while our instinct is to marginalize, our Traditions has taught us to embrace our differences. This is especially reinforced by Tradition Three.

What about our groups? Consider the subtle message within Tradition Five, “Our primary purpose of every A.A. group is to carry its message to the alcoholic who still suffers." The key is in the word “its message—not “the message” or “our message” but each group’s message. And how does each group determine its message? Tradition Two and Four celebrates the autonomy and authority of group conscience. Each group can outline their own message.

A muckers or back-to-basics group’s message is that hope and recovery comes through the working of the Twelve Steps, done in a certain way, over a certain time-frame. Other groups don’t even read the (suggested) Twelve Steps at their meeting. That may give the message that fellowship—the sharing and caring of fellow members—is the secret sauce of contented recovery. So young people’s groups, women’s groups, nonbelievers meetings or LGBTQ groups don’t all talk a uniformed talk or offer exactly the same brand of AA hope. Some AA groups don’t bat an eye at talk of drugs (as well as drinking) while others kick up an “outside issue” fuss if you discuss smoking pot or prescription drug misuse. Some meetings include prayer in the formalities. Atheist and Agnostic groups tend to see its AA message as a more secular solution.

AA accommodates and includes new groups, be they special interest or general purpose. Regardless of how or why a new group starts, a collective voice is found and a message of hope is expressed.

What we find at Pride is the celebration of, instead of the narcissism of, small differences. Everyone comes together to celebrate our diverse culture and not to scapegoat or ridicule others for their uniqueness. Sure, Monday comes and many of us will fall back in with our tribe. It’s no crime to seek the company of like-minded people. But the point is we came together and we will again. Without shouting out our tenets of honesty, open-mindedness and willingness, the variety of celebrants that come and sing and dance to “We are Family” at Pride celebrations all around the world should inspire us in AA.

We have a living program, and an evolving fellowship that, through a spirited language says we are AA members and groups—not all the same, but all equal and all united.

I am a sample—not an example! John L’s A Freethinker in Alcoholics Anonymous celebrates diversity  

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I am a sample of recovery; I am not an example. I hear ya, “Come on Joe, you’re playing the semantics game, again. You’re not going to write a whole blog on it, are you?” Hear me out. What I am saying is this: isn’t it enough to show that it can work, without laying claim to how it works? If it works for me, it can work for you; if it works for her, it can work for him.
Our Declaration of Unity was unveiled at the Miami Beach International Convention of AA in 1970:
This we owe A.A.’s future: To place our common welfare first; to keep our Fellowship united. For on A.A. unity depends our lives, and the lives of those to come.
There are many samples of recovery that every new member can draw upon to forge their own salvation. We need not adopt the uniformity of zombies; no one should need to shoehorn themselves into someone else’s solution. In the rooms we find many people working individual programs of recovery—not everyone working an identical program. Some of these individual programs are in tune with the suggested Steps while others reject them completely.

By various online dictionary definitions, examples are “a person or way of being that is seen as a model that should be followed” ( or “one that is representative of a group as a whole.” (”Oxford ( includes, “A person or think regarded in terms of their fitness to be imitated.”

Samples of sample definitions include ( “a small amount of something that gives you information about the thing it was taken from” or better yet ( “A selection taken from a larger group so that you can examine it to find out something about the larger group.”
In the same way a Psychology test mines a random sample, I like to include myself as being within an extreme range of possibilities in sobriety, more than I like to be emulated as a power of example.

I say again that I believe that the role of a new member’s inner circle in recovery is to help her or him find their salvation—not indoctrinate them into our brand of salvation—a new person should observe many samples of recovery from an ample pool of addicts to help formulate their own plan for sobriety.
By the (big) book, “How It Works” is by implementation of the Twelve Steps of Alcoholics Anonymous. John Lauritsen, in his new book, A Freethinker in Alcoholics Anonymous says “Not so fast!”
“The Fellowship and the 24-hour Plan are the pillars of Alcoholics Anonymous. ... there is great freedom in A.A., both for the group and the individual. In my 46 years of sobriety I have always been able to find groups with a maximum of Fellowship and minimum of religiosity.[i]"

John reminds us that the suggested Steps is another way of saying the optional Steps. They violate his creed and core beliefs so he never worked the Steps. John explains why he disagrees with the powerlessness premise. The concept of an intervening deity has never proven in life or in AA. Forget morality; while the Step Four idea of taking inventory isn’t a bad idea, as John sees it, alcoholism isn’t brought about by moral defects. Alcoholism causes moral compromise—not the other way around.

John credits his success, which he describes as social, physical, financial and intellectual recovery to what he calls, “real A.A.” According to what John has observed in AA since 1968, what works is the 24-hour program, the Fellowship’s mutual-aid environment and a determined mantra of “If you get run over by a train, don’t blame the caboose for killing you; stay away from the first drink.”

The dogmatic preaching of the Twelve Steps is what John calls “false AA.” It’s not because he thinks the Steps don’t work; he accepts the claims of many that, for them, the Twelve Steps have been life altering. However, in A Freethinker in Alcoholics Anonymous, the argument is made that there are some premises about the Steps that are born of AA mythology and not our actual history. One myth is that this is exactly how the first 100 members got sober.

The early members had an oral tradition before we codified it into 164 pages. Most members who were Step oriented had a six-step process which varied from member to member and region to region. The Twelve Steps were new to these (mostly sober) members when they read Bill’s version of Chapter 5, “How it Works.” Some liked them, some objected. It was a tough sell for Bill to get the members to adopt the Steps and it was hardly unanimous. As John writes:
“Whether the Steps are helpful, harmful or both, it is intolerable that they should become sacred dogma. Everyone should be free to criticize or reject the Steps—openly, and without risk of ostracism. Every A.A. member and every A.A. group should be free to reinterpret and re-write the Steps, in line with the principles of the A.A. Preamble and the Twelve Traditions. The True A.A., the Fellowship, belongs to us freethinkers as much as it does to the god-people.”[ii]

John’s books describes AA as a Fellowship of two million members all working their own unique “program” that we have quilted together in part from ideas and practices we learn from the sharing and encouragement we get in the rooms and, in part, from the values and practices we bring to or develop in recovery.

So, John L is a sample of recovery. Anyone from the rooms or the treatment industry ought to read his book to better understand AA’s wide tent. He is candid about his ideas of what could make AA better. One need not adopt his views, but we would be remiss to not hear how he came to these conclusions. John exemplifies, as many in AA do, that physical, social and mental recovery are all possible without adherence to a deity, the powerlessness notion or the idea that defects of character are correlated to substance or process addiction.
Mantras for newcomers from early AA:
A pickle never becomes a cucumber again; once an alcoholic, always an alcoholic.
If you get run over by a train, it’s not the caboose that kills you; it’s not that last drink that’s to blame – it’s the first drink that gets us.

I came here a drug addict who also drank compulsively. Alcohol wasn't a drug of choice over any of the others—it was good enough. I generally identify as an alcoholic. I freely talk about drugs if it fits into the story I am telling but I don't talk a lot about the past in meetings, in part because my greatest hurdles in life were to come after my last drink. In AA, sober, I had two kids from two moms and my infidelity was a contributor to both of those breakups. Herpes and HIV came after "the gift of the 12 Steps." The same is true with my financial bankruptcy; that was a gift of sobriety. I have compulsive eating working and hoarding tendencies that concern me at times. I was in jail five years sober for non-payment of speeding tickets. Somehow, I thought powered-by-AA gave me an exception to life’s rules; the Royal Canadian Mounted Police disagreed.

Mine is no conference talk about the socio-economic upward trend from day-one of sobriety through to present day. Some consider me an "example" of decades of sobriety. I call myself a sample, not an example. I don't have what everyone wants, nor do I want to have what everyone wants. I want to live my flawed, incomplete life without the pressure of other people looking up to me. Others can look and they can learn all they want. I live by my values. Sure, much of what forged these values was the lessons learned in the rooms. But I feel no obligation to be “on” or a power of example.

I champion radical inclusion and I speak out against what-you-need-to-do-ism. “My way is the best way” chatter is, what Ernie Kurtz calls spiritual arrogance—an oxymoron if I ever saw one. In his recent book, co-authored with Katherine Ketcham, Experiencing Spirituality: Finding Meaning Through Storytelling, a story of grandiosity or a sense of superiority is told:
“‘Playing God’ can happen in small ways, for example in the ever-present temptation to seek an edge, gain some privilege:
A car accident occurred in a small town. A crowd surrounded the victim so a newspaper reporter couldn’t get close enough to see him.
He hit upon an idea. ‘I’m the father of the victim!’ he cried. ‘Please let me through.’
The crowd let him pass so he was able to get right up to the scene of the accident and discover, to his embarrassment, that the victim was a donkey.”[iii]

Instant-karma, where the principle character immediately sees that his arrogance made him out to look like an ass to everyone else, isn’t always the case. Years of reinforcement can encourage those in the rooms who hold themselves out as the bishops and cardinals of The AA Way, compounding their arrogance and belligerence. This dynamic makes for what we see in some quarters of 12 & 12 Fellowships, an air of polarizing platitudes espoused by bullies that make those with doubt, critical thinking and alternate views look for the exits or alternatively, emotionally close down—becoming closet skeptics.

No one should feel that what they have to say about addiction and recovery is unfit for an AA meeting or any Twelve Step meeting for that matter. We are all samples, from the most devote servant of Yahweh to the boldest reductionist, we all have standing and we are all united.

I will close with some reflections offered by Bernard Smith, one of our early non-alcoholic Trustees and AA’s first Chair of The General Service Board (originally known as the Alcoholic Foundation). Bern authored the Bylaws of the General Service Board, adopted by AA in 1957. Smith’s Miami talk on Unity and Continuity in July of 1970 would be the last we would hear of Bernard Smith. He died the following month of a heart attack. Bill W was dying himself and could not make Bern’s funeral. He sent a tribute that would be read by another AA member. In this tribute Bill W gives thanks.
“Bern made a remarkable and inspiring talk to some 11,000 of our members gathered in Miami Beach to celebrate our Fellowship’s 35th anniversary. The subject of his talk was ‘Unity’ – truly an apt subject, for no man did more than he to assure unity within our Fellowship.
For that matter, he did much to assure our very survival, for he was one of the principle architects of the General Service Conference.
Bern Smith would not want, nor does he need, encomiums from me. What he has done for Alcoholics Anonymous speaks far louder than any words of mine could ever do. His wisdom and vision will be sorely missed by us all.”

Here are some of the timeless worlds from Bern Smith’s speech. The demonstrate to me that all of us samples of recovery have standing and add value—to each other, now and for the still suffering alcoholic who has not yet reached our doors.
“Perhaps no time in history has this land of ours been so torn by dissention, by divisiveness, by mistrust. Yet we are here in convention assembled as if on an island of unity in a world sea of disunity. What we seek now and will forever seek in the future is not to find unity, for we how have it, but rather steadily and unceasingly to insure that our precious unity will remain in continuity of all time.
Now, you may have observed that the title of my talk this evening is ‘Unity and Continuity.’ The word ‘unity’ is variously defined. I have chosen as the definition applicable to our Fellowship that which reads: ‘the quality or state of being or consisting of one, a totality of related parts.’ For, indeed, we are assembled here this evening as a true totality of related parts…
Slowly and painstakingly, we have built upon the spiritual foundation of this great Society a structure that, I believe, can with continued devotion insulate this Fellowship against the ravages of time, of dissent, of materialistic decay…
Alcoholics Anonymous does not claim any monopoly on the achievement of sobriety. While sobriety is indeed the end we seek, the means by which we attain it render this Fellowship unique. We believe, as Aldous Huxley said in his End and Means: ‘Our personal experience and the study of history make it abundantly clear that the means whereby we try to achieve something are at least as important as the end we wish to attain. Indeed, they are even more important. For the means employed inevitably determine the nature of the result achieved.’
Our message to society is not so much that we have succeeded in ceasing to drink, but that, by the nature of the means we employ, we have found a way to fulfill our lives. We do not acquire sobriety through the use of chemical formula or a powerful drug. We achieve it by applying to our daily lives the simple tenets of humility, honesty, devotion, love and compassion.”[iv]
Bernard Smith’s talk suggests to me that AA’s tents are universal principles that transcend language, creed and personal experience or taste. The means can be various and the end the same. We hear, “Go to enough meetings and you’ll hear your story.” The felling that comes from that experience is that we are no longer alone. That feeling is very empowering—very healing. Let’s hope that we can continue to celebrate the variety of AA experiences. Every sample and every example matters for any society with the legacies of recovery, unity and service.
[i] Chapter 8, “The Fellowship,” Lauritsen, John, A Freethinker in Alcoholics Anonymous, Dorchester: Pagan Press, 2014
[ii] Ibid
[iii] Kurtz, Ernest, Ketcham, Katherine, Experiencing Spirituality: Finding Meaning Through Storytelling, New York: Penguin, 2014, p. 205

Will and Recovery: Is English adequate to translate the language of the heart? 

Life is like a game of cards. The hand you are dealt is determinism; the way you play it is free will. ~Jawaharlal Nehru (1889 – 1964)

(Print, read or distribute with PDF version) If will has no place in sobriety, what is meant by "willingness?"

This word is the first of three indispensable attributes (willingness, honesty and open-minded). While I would have loved at one time to be able to learn to drink in moderation (and I can't), I can channel moderation in my recovery. I must use my will according to Nehru. Self-will-run-riot is a type of blind insanity but determination is not. I don't blame AA literature or culture for inconsistencies; the English language is desperately lacking. There are things we know in life but can't express.

Ernie Kurtz and Katherine Ketcham's new book Experiencing Spirituality: Finding Meaning Through Storytelling tells of a Taoist notion, "Those who know don't say and those who say, don't know." We all know what a rose smells like, right? Try describing it. There are things we know well but can't articulate. This is how language goes. You and I may have the same experience of yellow but language is inadequate for you and I to describe our experience to determine if both of us are seeing the exact same thing when we are looking at the color yellow. Staying with the Taoist theme, yin is spontaneity, but in the extreme, chaotic and nihilistic. Yang is order, but in its extreme, rigid and Fascist.

Chaos and order are not opposites. They are relative to each other and dependent on each other in a balanced person as in a balanced universe. I call my will that balanced place whereby I am not letting myself get too chaotic or too rigid. It is not God’s will and it is not self-will-run-riot. Appendix II of Alcoholics Anonymous describes higher power in a way I can live with. "With few exceptions, our members have found that they had tapped an unsuspected inner resource that they currently identify as a power greater than ourselves."

As we know, the Big Book goes on to say, "Our more religious members call it God-consciousness." So, for those of us who are not in the "more religious members" category, there is no need to use the God language or even appease the masses with rhetoric like, “God as I understand Him means Group Of Drunks (or Good Orderly Direction).” I would never come up with these terms on my own. It’s only when I compare myself to the overwhelming majority of God-fearing or God loving (whatever they want to call themselves) members in Twelve Step recovery, am I inclined to relate my belief in their language. It would sound like nonsense in any context outside of a Twelve Step conversation. Sure, I can talk that way if I want to, but I don't want to be a people pleaser so I do not.

After all, GOD is also an acronym for Gaggle Of Drones – lol

Individualism and unity have that same interdependent relationship as yin and yang or order and chaos. What would be the value of a unified fellowship of drones, babbling a mindless cliché of uniformed gibberish? We need strong individuals to have a useful, meaningful unified whole. These individuals, for the whole to unified, have to be open-minded, honest and willing to get along. That isn’t all of us going along with exactly the same narrative to get along. Au contraire; it is embracing our differences, Vive la différence! That goes for all of us—atheists, agnostics, theists.

None of us have a lock on permanent recovery. None of us have an easier go of getting sober or a leg up on the other as far as finding a life of meaning in sobriety. While we need not obey anyone else’s belief system nor deny our own, what is there to learn from each other?

In a Ted talk, John Bellamy[i] makes the point that while yin is the white swirl and yang the black, each has the seed of its interdependent twin. Using the new-age spirituality of Star Wars, Luke Skywalker has dark side of the force potential, while his father, Darth Vader has the potential for good. This is a variation on the Jesus on one shoulder, Lucifer on the other myth.

This relativity is lost in the debate between a naturalist vs. super-naturalist worldview that only has room for one ultimate truth. Only ultimate purgatory—not truth—awaits a life lived in suspended animation holding out for this ultimate question of the universe to be resolved. That binary thinking doesn’t have to be our way.

Pluralism is how Twelve Step life was designed. We were invited to broaden our knowledge and open our hearts. Atheists are no threat to AA’s God-conscious members. AA’s antiquated literature is no threat to an atheist’s sovereignty. If you can’t find a secular narrative from the “as it was written” Big Book, should we blame the book?

Those of us in the middle of the yin/yang merry-go-round of worldviews are never put off balance by the opposing views of others. It is only those of us at the extreme that feel antagonistic, victimized or feel the need to petition the fellowship for urgent change.

Those of us with a rigid, literalist interpretation of our Twelve Step program want atheist to hit the bricks and stop the “destruction of AA from the inside.” They see in the nonbeliever, the threat of nihilism. What they call, “watered down AA” is, at the heart of it, the threat of liberalism that will secularize all of AA, undoing their imaginary legacy of a constant, uniformed message and interpretation. Fascism can’t stand individualism. It scapegoats minorities as evil or dangerous and rallies to take away standing for all nonconformists.

According to the Taoist philosophy the seed of the rigid literalist’s intolerance is their own fear born of their own doubt. Yes, it is the doubt that lingers in the believer the spurs them on to evict the atheist. Believers don’t have proof of a prayer answering god—only faith. And what do we say is the opposite of faith? Fear. While that faith is encouraged by likeminded adherents, it is threatened by those who may mock devotion as a child-like belief.

The extreme nonbeliever also rallies for change. We cry about persecution and justice and we say, as Jim Burwell told his fellows in the day, “AA would be better without all this God bunk.” Moderates don’t mind being in the presence of prayer. Extremists are insulted by it. What is it that seeds the nonbelievers demands for a new, more secular Big Book? If this is born of intolerance then, might it also be caused from the same fear that is only the natural doubt that comes from an equally un-winnable argument about a universe of chaos?

AA is changing because, as with all things, change is inevitable. Should it change according to the back-to-basics fundamentalists agenda? Should AA be re-written without the theistic assumptions of mid-20th century middle-class America? I don’t know that best practices are to be found in either of these extreme positions. Would AA be better if one extreme won out and demanded compliance from the rest of us? I don’t think so.

What keeps the Twelve Step rooms vibrant and viable is that there continues to be room for everyone. The ranters rant their liberal and conservative rants. The moderates mind their own business, curious and not threatened by each other. There has never been a better time to be in Twelve Step recovery. No matter what you believe someone is releasing a book that will reinforce your believe. Someone else is putting out a book that will challenge your beliefs. Fining an online room of your peeps has never been easier. Surround yourself with likeminded individuals, if that’s what you need. Reach out in every direction and leave no stone unturned, if you are a seeker. Challenge those who disagree with you, if you must. I need to remember that alternate worldviews in a pluralist society are relative to me—not opposed to me.

In my experience, I can always find a fight if I am in a fighting mood. I can always find the hand extended, If I (not they) am open-minded, honest and willing. Life is like a mirror. What happens to the image in the mirror when I frown? It frowns back. And when I smile?

The more insecure I feel, the more I need to persuade or evangelize my As Joe Sees It brand of life worth living. Why should it matter that even one person agreed with me if I am secure with my path that I have chosen for myself? If I have found what is true for me, agreement or disagreement should just be par for the course.

AA will unveil a new pamphlet about the variety of spiritual paths in AA, from atheism to the range of Abrahamic monotheistic beliefs, to Eastern and aboriginal philosophy and rituals. It’s called a spirituality pamphlet. If you don’t like the term spiritual experience, just call it experience or change the word—the word won’t mind.
I will close with this: Early in Ketcham and Kurtz’s Experiencing Spirituality has this to say about experience:
There are two terms that, while the processes surely are included in experience, are anything but substitutes for it: “feel” and “think.” The main problem with these terms is that each seems to exclude the other, or at least to downplay it. The special benefit of the word experience is that it includes all the senses and faculties mentioned above and more. [ii]
Thinking can be called Yang, while feeling could be Yin. There should be no master and no slave; balance is the key. Try reasoning someone out of a position they have come to through emotion; forget about it. Let’s follow Kurtz and Ketcham’s cue and stick to sharing our experience and not try to control how the message is received by others.
[ii] Kurz, Ernest & Ketcham, Katherine, Experiencing Spirituality: Finding Meaning Through Storytelling, p. 30

Rebellion Dogs Radio # 5, Standing: Who get's a say in AA? Podcast

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“Who is more contemptible than he who scorns knowledge of himself?” John of Salisbury (1120 – 1180)

John Ralston Saul commentates on the relationships between citizenship, individualism and the public good. He argues that Western society, as a whole, suffers from “a fear of reality and a weakness for ideology.” As a way of describing our mental state while in the heart of addiction, AA members would be apt to describe ourselves as less in reality and more in delusion.

Today, let’s ask if AA as an organization ought to be mindful of our balancing act between reality and ideology. Are we as a fellowship losing touch with its own consciousness?
In his lectures and book, The Unconscious Civilization[i], John Ralston Saul suggests that John of Salisbury would give a nod to the adaptation of his quote above to “What is more contemptible than a society that scorns knowledge of itself?"

For those of who fashion ourselves as stewards of The Alcoholics Anonymous Twelve Step/Twelve Tradition way of life, here is a question that relates to AA reality and ideology:
  • Is AA a fellowship with a manual, or
  • Is AA a book-based society?
Are we a fellowship or are we a program? While we might want to retreat to the noncommittal, “aren’t we both?” let’s look first at our Traditions. Do these twelve principles defend and define a fellowship or a program? The answer is quite apparent. Unity, membership requirements, how we govern our groups, how the groups relate to each other, how we cooperate with society as a whole, why anonymity—these tenets describe a fellowship. One Tradition, Tradition Five, reminds us to relate our message of hope to the still suffering alcoholic.

We are a fellowship. This reality is lost in our current vernacular. “When I joined the program,” is said so many times it is, to many, our collective reality. In fact, we joined a fellowship. Many of us applied a suggested program but there is no program to join. Am I splitting hairs? I don’t think so; I think this a fundamental explanation of some of the dogmatic tendencies in AA today.

If we were a book-based society—and we are not—then the book would be sacred. The sacred book could not be changed, nor should the words inside be liberally interpreted. While this is a knee-jerk reaction by many of the membership, The Big Book itself discourages us from this type of dogma, not once but twice: "The wording was, of course quite optional, so long as we voiced the ideas without reservation." (P. 63) “Our book is meant to be suggestive only. We realize that we know only a little.” (P. 164)

For comparison's sake, let’s liken ourselves to a society of grade five math teachers. Since the late 1930s, the principles of math as it applies to grade five have not changed dramatically. Are we using the same text book to teach our children? No; we have found more contemporary ways to express these principles. While staying true to the same principles in grade five math, every generation of students gets the same or greater advantage compared to those who came before, based on these enhancements. How silly would we look if we reified the math-teaching process with a text book that was almost 80 years old, fearing that our mathematics would otherwise be watered down?

If this is an unfair comparison, I am all ears and eyes. Tell me why.

Recently I was chaired a panel at the 35th Eastern Ontario Spring Conference of AA in Ottawa Canada. This conference had something for everyone. Clancy I from Venice California was there. Big Book evangelist, Tom K from Boston was there. The old-timers panel was called “Sisters in Sobriety” with three 40 years+ sober women in AA. I was chairing a panel called “Unity Not Uniformity: Spiritual Variety in A.A." which was comprised of Atheist and Agnostic members with long term sobriety. I talked about stewardship in AA. “It’s Okay to want to be the Tradition Police in AA; that’s a good thing. But first, we have to put our time in at the Twelve Tradition Academy to learn about our history.”

When we study our history we see that history does have a tendency to repeat itself.
Our principles suggest that individualism is no threat to unity. As stated in Warranty Six in our A.A. World Service Manual,

“Much attention has been drawn to the extraordinary liberties which the A.A. Traditions accord to the individual member and to his group; no penalties to be inflicted for nonconformity to A.A. principles … no member to be expelled from A.A.—membership always to be the choice of the individual; each group to conduct its internal affairs as it wishes—it being merely requested to abstain from acts that might injure A.A. as a whole; and finally that any group of alcoholics gathered together for sobriety may call themselves an A.A. group provide that as a group, they have no other purpose or affiliation. . . we A.A.’s possess more and greater freedom than any other fellowship in the world.”[ii]

I listen to Ralston Saul’s Massey Lectures about “Unconscious Civilization” and I wonder if AA isn’t becoming an “increasingly conformist society that pays only lip service to democracy and individualism.” Is Individualism in AA today (the autonomy of members and our groups) seen as a single ambulatory center of selfishness? Selfishness is a narrower, more superficial definition of individualism than our founders might have intended.

Today, do we feel bound to unify, despite our differences? Or do we feel obliged to conform to a uniformed set of rituals? Bill Wilson seemed comfortable choosing spontaneity and chaos over control and order. Imagine if you or I were laying out the groundwork. Would we give groups and members such autonomy? While groups are asked to consider other groups or AA as a whole, policing that request is left to that group’s best judgment. Why? Bill W’s view was that Alcoholics Anonymous is self-correcting. While you can apply a theistic narrative if you wish, Bill was certain that adherence to the principles behind our Steps and Traditions were obligatory to a group’s or individual’s survival. Was it ever intended that we ought to be obligated to submit to these Steps or Traditions literally, as authority from Yahweh the Creator? No. The principles, if followed, would work, in accordance to any creed or worldview. Any who stray too far away will not have to be policed or governed; they will fall by the wayside all by themselves. Based on the experience that informed our Traditions, Bill W. didn’t seem so concerned that any individual or group could drag the fellowship down with them. It was the intolerance, not the refusal to conform, that he saw as detrimental.

In the story of Tradition Three from The Twelve Steps and Twelve Traditions, Wilson relates this story about applying rules upon membership:

“Maybe this sounds comical now. Maybe you think we oldtimers were pretty intolerant. But I can tell you there was nothing funny about the situation then. We were grim because we felt our lives and homes were threatened, and that was no laughing matter. Intolerant, you say? Well, we were frightened. Naturally, we began to act like most everybody does when afraid. After all, isn’t fear the true basis of intolerance? Yes, we were intolerant.
How could we then guess that all those fears were to prove groundless? How could we know that thousands of these sometimes frightening people were to make astonishing recoveries and become our greatest workers and most intimate friends?”[iii]

So, according to AA lore, everyone lives happily ever after if and when we mind our own business and we don’t take ourselves too seriously. What is “too seriously?” How about when we assume power or jurisdiction over another?

STANDING: losing your say in AA
In law, locus standi (standing) establishes who has a voice and who does not. Free defines the term as, “The legally protectable stake or interest that an individual has in a dispute that entitles him to bring the controversy before the court to obtain judicial relief.”

In Fire and Ashes, Michael Ignatieff talked about lessons learned the hard way about how sinister the political ploy of undermining someone’s standing can be. What if you no longer have a say in the political arena? Ignatieff came from a politically engaged Canadian family. His dad was active in Liberal politics and his childhood memories include dinner time political debate. As a reporter, educator and author, Michael Ignatieff had been teaching at Harvard where he had received his doctorate of history. Liberal insiders visited him and laid out a proposal to have him return to Canada join and the Liberal leadership race with the intention of eventually running the country as Prime Minister.

His key adversary, Steven Harper, leader of the Conservative Party of Canada ran smear campaigns with the tag lines, “Michael Ignatieff – just visiting,” and “He didn’t come back for you.” The intended goal was not to rebut his criticism of how the Conservatives were running the country. It attacked the man, not the message; it suggested that Ignatieff had no standing in a discussion of what was best for Canada.

“Swift-boating,” is the term Ignatieff uses for undermining ones standing in the political arena. It refers to a successful attack on democratic presidential nominee John Kerry and his Vietnam record. As he returned home a decorated vet, he was critical of US conduct in the war. Kerry had seen action on a Swift Boat up the Mekong River in Vietnam and his anti-war ranting on Capitol Hill offended American prisoners of war and other US troops and their families.

There is always some truth to swift-boating. Ignatieff had been out of the country for thirty years. John Kerry was critical of the Vietnam War. Does that make either man unworthy of leading their country? Well, they don’t get to make their case, if they lose their standing.

When AA groups for agnostics and atheists are being ostracized by some of the more rigid local Intergroups, the Intergroup bodies assume governing power to revoke the agnostic groups’ standing in AA. Hasty and angry Intergroup bodies don’t hear the group’s rebuttal. In Intergroup’s rationalization, the nonconforming groups forfeit their AA group status for the crime of not adhering to the literal translation of AA’s Steps that the majority of groups do.

That much is true; some agnostic groups interpret the Steps in a secular (no God) way while others don’t read the Steps in meetings at all. The fact—the AA truth—is that there is no requirement for the membership or groups to strictly adhere to the Steps exactly as written. Because someone says “You can’t pick and choose what you like about the Steps and change the rest and still call yourself an AA group,” doesn’t make it true. AA doesn’t grant Intergroups authority over deciding who is or is not an AA group, nor what conventional or unconventional rituals can or cannot be practiced. On the contrary, “leaders are but trusted servants, they do not govern.”

When members are told that in order to share, they have to identify as, “My name is ________ and I am an alcoholic,” their standing is being threatened. The only requirement for membership is a desire to stop drinking. How we identify ourselves—addict, person in long-term recovery, by first name only or full name—is an individual decision.

We don’t have a winning record with inclusivity as a fellowship. The first group conscience of Alcoholics Anonymous that entertained giving standing to women in AA decided, “No skirts.” Voting on including African Americans in AA was “No Negros.” The first LGBTQ groups that wanted standing were told “No sexual deviants in AA.” Young people have been shown the same bigotry, too. “I spilled more than you ever drank; what are you doing here?”

Almost all of us alcoholics have been denied standing just for being an alcoholic. Our word was nothing, our reputation was destroyed, our troubles elicited no sympathy. We were alkies, we were addicts, second class citizens. And sober, having suffered the indignity of it ourselves, we still dish it out to scapegoated others because their beliefs or some other characteristic disqualifies them from legitimacy (in our eyes). This is natural for humans. Not them but each and every one of us.

Fire and Ashes talks about the reluctant move towards wider, more inclusive standing:

“America, and the democracies that take inspiration from it, are inching a step closer to that place glimpsed by Martin Luther King when he spoke of a distant country where people would be judged not by the characteristics, but by their character. Despite the victories that Obama has won, however, the country is still distant. Democratic societies that have outlawed discrimination nonetheless retain a complex code that still allows class, education and citizenship to be used to deny standing and to turn citizens from friends into foes in our politics.”[iv]

This isn’t new territory for Michael Ignatieff. In his life as a journalist, Ignatieff was on the front line of conflicts between the Tutsi and Hutu factions in Rwanda, the Croatians and Serbs in the former Yugoslavia were shooting at each other, and at the pre-911 Taliban affront on Afghanistan, before many American’s could point out Afghanistan on a world map.

In The Warrior’s Honor, Ignatieff draws upon the more conservative political scientist Samuel P. Huntington to help make the point that some of these differences we are talking about are not as simple as, “I like the New England Patriots and you like the San Francisco 49ers.”

“The Clash of Civilizations, by Samuel Huntington states that it is liberal ‘secular myopia,’ he argues, to think that ethnic difference is minor. … Millennia of human history have shown that religion is not a small difference, he asserts, but possibly the most profound difference that can exist between people. The frequency, intensity and violence of fault line wars are greatly enhanced by beliefs in different gods.”

Ignatieff goes on to say about the warring Serbians and Croatians, so many expressed “surprise at the astonishing rapidity with which fifty years of ethnic coexistence was destroyed, perhaps forever.”[v]

So it’s one thing that we have meetings for the LGBTQ crowd or young people or for women. To be fair, AA was welcoming African Americans into the fold before Martin Luther King and Gay and Lesbian groups were part of AA when sodomy was still illegal and a dishonorable discharge awaited any gay man who came clean in the army. At least all of these special meetings of young, gay or female alkies were in agreement with the crowd as far as the “We Agnostics” line in the sand. On page 53 of the Big Book, we are confronted with, “We could not postpone or evade; we had to fearlessly face the proposition that either God is everything or else He is nothing. God either is, or He isn’t. What was our choice to be?” Most AAs through the ages agree on some Abrahamic Creator of the Universe or prayer answering, alcoholic saving power greater than our own will.

But when “God as we understand Him,” is “God is a myth,” or “I understand God to be born of fear and ignorance,” then this fault line difference is quite another thing. The reality that many stay sober without any supernatural dependency is a reality that, in some AA quarters, is giving way to a more dogmatic, uniformed God-conscious ideology of what AA is and has always been. Revisionist history is the foundation from the Back to Basics AA that remembers a time when everyone got sober and all the groups were harmonious. While there is nothing wrong with a literalist approach to AA, the problem comes when pluralism is abandoned and alternative paths to sobriety are dismissed as dry-drunk, second-rate alternatives or without standing.

Denying agnostic AA groups their standing in AA is a clear case of being discriminated against. Intergroups assume a governing role and avoid rebuttal by denying standing to agnostic groups. Are there more subtle systemic discriminations in AA, or as Ignatieff puts it, a “complex code that still allows class, education and citizenship to be used to deny standing?” Clues can be found in our demographics. Let’s look at how USA demographics (where ½ of AA members live) have changed from 1940 to 2010.
Demographics of USA 1940 to 2010
USA demographics 1940 2010
% of Caucasian (whites) 90% 72%
% who completed High School 24% 86%
% with a University Degree 5% 28%
% of one person households 8% 27%
% of female lead households 11% 20%

The USA looks very different over a 70 year period. What we call a family or household has changed. One person homes have risen from 8% to 27%; female led households have doubled from 11% to 20%. Americans are better educated; when AA started 5% of members had a university education. Now it’s 28%. America was 90% Caucasian when Bob and Bill met and in 2010, only 72% identified as white.[vi] On the question of racial diversity, in the 2011 Triennial AA survey we see that AA is whiter than America as a whole: 87% of AA is Caucasian while only 72% of America is. According to the 2011 survey by SAMHSA, of the people being treated for alcoholism, 68% are Caucasian. Looking ahead, with a 100 year old AA, Caucasians will not be a majority in the USA (estimated crossover to be 2043). Is there something systematic in the rituals and literature of AA that gives more standing to white skinned members or men over women?

“God as we understand Him” doesn’t fit all AAs today in the one-size-fits-all way it did in 1940. As more Muslims, Hindus, Buddhists and Atheists enter the rooms, what would be a more welcoming hand of AA for the newcomer of 2035 look like? Can we adapt? Will we adapt?

We say the Responsibility Declaration and we talk of AA inclusivity. Is our liberalism a myth (ideology) or reality? If we are inclusive, if we are accommodating, to what do we attribute the variance in statistics inside the rooms and the world just outside our meeting doors?

Ignatieff writes:
“Myth is a narrative shaped by desire, not by truth, formed not by the facts as best we can establish them but by our longing to be reassured and consoled. Coming awake means to renounce such longing, to recovery all the sharpness of the distinction between what is true and what we wish were true.”[vii]

The Warrior's Honor refers to the James Joyce line from Ulysses, “History is a nightmare from which I am trying to awake.” With our emphasis on a spiritual awakening this idea should be like old home week for us. “Appendix II, The Spiritual Experience” describes most awakenings as being gradual. Maybe it’s a life’s work to renounce our longing for assurance and consolation. Could it be that it’s only human to surrender to self-constructed or mutually constructed realities that blot out the harsher truths? Constant vigilance is a more demanding master.

To follow the natural order of things is to resign ourselves to the finitude of all good things. AA, like any society, will decay if we follow our natural tendencies. To fend off this inevitability requires more than lip service to our brand of democracy. It requires each of us engaging in our citizenry and rising to the challenge, when anyone, anywhere reaches out for help. For AA to be there in 2035 we have to be firm with our principles and flexible with our method.
[ii] The AA World Service Manual (Twelve Concepts p. 74)
[iii] Anonymous, Twelve Steps and Twelve Traditions, New York: Alcoholics Anonymous, 1953 p. 140 - 141
[iv] Ignatieff, Michael, Fire and Ashes, Toronto: Random House, 2013
[v] Ignatieff, Michael, The Warrior's Honor: Ethnic War and The Modern Conscience, Toronto: Viking, 1998 p 54, 55.
[vii] Ignatieff, Michael, The Warrior's Honor:. p 167

Sober Truths: 50 years of AA critics, bad science and bad attitudes Podcast

Finding Fault like there's a reward to it - Isn't there more to constructive criticism than pointing out the faults in others? Meet the new book (same as the old book) that takes a pot-shot at AA, 12 Steps and the Treatment modality that embraces this "bad science." Authors Lance and Zackary Dodes sing a familiar refrain in The Sober Truth: Debunking the Bad Science Behind 12-Step Programs and the Rehab Industry. This just in: AA is flawed and unscientific. OK, so room for improvement isn't news. But is AA ineffective? So, in Episode 04 of Rebellion Dogs Radio, we look at AA-bashing from Dr. Cain in 1963's "AA: Cult or Cure?" to Penn & Teller's Bullshit episode on Showtime and this new book. We look at AA's own triennial survey results from 1977 to 1989 and why critics see embarrassing 5% success (or let's call it failure) rates. We counter that with peer reviewed studies that call such a conclusion erroneous or misleading. For 50 years and then some, as a fellowship, we have inspired many to change their life for the better. We have also inspired some to be critical of us.

Bill W was not reactive; he thought that our critics weren't all wrong and we could learn from them.  From Cain to Dodes, fellowship reaction is always divided. Many are dismissive or hurt by the mean spirited condemnation. Others find it a breath of fresh and feel vindicated for their own frustration with AA's preaching personal inventory on one hand but being resistant or belligerent about meaningful change as a fellowship. It's a question worth asking for each of us: Am I change-resistant; do I default to contempt prior to investigation when:

  1. I am criticized,
  2. someone proposes a change in my home group,
  3. or, in this case, when someone is publicly critical of AA as a whole?"

It's a regular Rebellion Dog-fight this month and we invite you to listen in or join in on the conversation. We race through the history of debunking and debunking-busting in 45 minutes. We are 100% in favor of skepticism. But have these critics got their facts straight?

At the end you can hear Beyond Belief: Agnostic Musings for 12 Step Life's author Joe C, playing lead and singing back-up on The Chronicle's song Jesse and he wrote, "Chronic Malcontent," the prefect theme song for Episode #4.

Read or download the transcript of Episode 04 HERE

For links to Don McIntire, “How Well Does A.A. Work?”in Alcoholism Treatment Quarterly, AA Recovery Outcome Rates – Contemporary Myth and Misconception and Hoffmann (2003) “Recovery careers of people in Alcoholics Anonymous.”

Penn & Teller Bullshit show on Showtime

What "Beyond Belief" means to me 

(Read it in PDF if you prefer)

My AA home group is called Beyond Belief Agnostics & Freethinkers (Toronto, Canada). The group had its first meeting September 24, 2009. I guess the meaning of Beyond Belief could be different for each of us. Here’s what it means to me: between the deaths of AA’s first co-founder and the recent death in my home group, a portrait tells a story.

Our group lost one of our original members, Wayne M, to cancer March 21, 2014. In Wayne’s story we see that he was trying to stay sober from 1992 to 2004. He had been in four rehabs, two were 12 Step based and two were not. In an article about his atheist 12 Step recovery, “A Higher Purpose,” Wayne writes:

“After three months at Halton Recovery House (October 1997 to January 1998) I managed to stay sober for a year and a half. Then, I picked up a drink and the next thing I knew, it was five years later and I was in a psych ward. It was 2004 and I was jobless, homeless and friendless. Even my brother would not take a phone call from me.
It was there I decided that I did not want to die a drunk.

I knew I needed treatment to get started—again—and I chose Renascent (House).

My sobriety date is Sept 30, 2004. In November I entered Renascent and completed treatment.”

All of us at Beyond Belief would have loved to celebrate Wayne’s 10th anniversary of continuous sobriety later this year, but it is not to be. I want to remember Wayne and share with you an uncanny connection that his story has to Bob S’s story from “The Co-Founders of Alcoholics Anonymous” P-53 15M 8/12 (RP) © Alcoholics Anonymous World Services, Inc. Dr. Bob said that “love and service” is the core of AA. He died of cancer in City Hospital, Akron November 16, 1950. No, I am not drawing a connection between AA service work and cancer. While these two men shared this life-ending experience, the point is how they lived sober and not how they died.

One of these men, Dr. Bob, saw himself as a servant of God and credited his sobriety to the grace of God. Wayne’s faith was in the transformative experience of (what the professionals call) cognitive restructuring, a psycho-therapeutic process of learning to identify and dispute irrational or maladaptive thoughts. Forget the, “Who was right and who was wrong” argument; or “Were they both guilty of patternicity?”—a word used by Skeptic Magazine Editor Michael Shermer to describe the believing mind’s tendency to find patterns or connections in the random noise and chaos of life’s experience. Let’s drop the language and imagine that both of these men’s stories are being told through silent film and not their own narration. Here we have to follow the alcoholic’s feet and stop listening to the words they choose to describe their experience. I think the actions and result of these two men are strikingly similar.

For my money, Ernie Kurtz seems to be saying two things about AA in the book about us, Not God: A History of Alcoholics Anonymous. A believer himself, he is not myth-busting the ABC of AA lore from “How it works:”
  • (a) That we were alcoholic and could not manage our own lives
  • (b) That probably no human power could have relieved our alcoholism.
  • (c) That God could and would if He were sought.
Not God means two profound things about how AA works: We had to stop trying to control the agenda (we were each not God); secondly, the transformative power of the AA way was not directly from the hand of God but the transference from despair to hope that comes from one alcoholic talking to another.

Bob describes AA as an oral tradition, one drunk talking to another before there was a book, a fellowship or a program:

“You see, back in those days we were groping in the dark. We knew practically nothing of alcoholism. I, a physician, knew nothing about it to speak of. Oh, I read about it, but there wasn’t anything worth reading in any of the text-books. Usually the information consisted of some queer treatment for D.T.s, if a patient had gone that far. If he hadn’t, you prescribed a few bromides and gave the fellow a good lecture.
At that point, our stories didn’t amount to anything to speak of. When we started in on Bill D. (AA #3), we had no Twelve Steps, either; we had no Traditions.”

Before meeting Bill W, Doctor Bob was as hot and cold with God? He had prayed unanswered prayers in solitude to be freed from the merciless obsession of drinking. He had cursed God and vowed to never darken the door of a church ever again. Still, he was a member of the Oxford Group. Before and after his last drink Bob found merit in the Oxford’s Four Absolutes - Absolute Honesty, Absolute Purity, Absolute Unselfishness and Absolute Love. Like Wayne, who languished through fits of sobriety and relapse, Bob found himself discouraged in himself and hopeless. Here he is talking of Henrietta Seiberling, who would later be responsible for introducing Bob and Bill.

“‘Henry, do you think I want to stop drinking liquor?’

She, being a very charitable soul, would say, ‘Yes, Bob, I’m sure you want to stop.’

I would say, ‘Well, I can conceive of any living human who really wanted to do something as badly as I think I do, who could be such a total failure. Henry, I think I’m just one of those want-to-want-to guys.’

And she’d say, ‘No Bob, I think you want to. You just haven’t found a way to work it yet.’

The fact that my sobriety has been maintained continuously for 13 ½ years doesn’t allow me to think that I am necessarily any further away from my next drink than any of you people. I’m still very human, and I still think a double Scotch would taste awfully good. If it wouldn’t produce disastrous results, I might try it. … I’m not trying to be funny. Those thoughts actually do enter my mind.”

Bob articulated the humility of what makes us all equal in AA. While the length between us and our last drink may be different from each other, the possibility of the next drink remains the same distance away for all of us. Bob never had that white-light experience Bill had. Through all of his life, Bob, a devoted believer, felt the humility of what we still call—not a cure, but—a daily reprieve. For Bob as for many of us, including Wayne, this reprieve was contingent on a day-at-a-time approach that was nurtured by a willingness to help others.

Bob continues in his Detroit talk:

“I think the kind of service that really counts is giving of yourself, and that almost invariably requires effort and time. It isn’t a matter of just putting a little quiet money in the dish. That’s needed, but isn’t giving much for the average individual in days like these, when most people get along fairly well. I don’t believe that type of giving would ever keep anyone sober. But giving of our own effort and strength and time is quite a different matter. And I think that is what Bill learned in New York and I didn’t learn in Akron until we met.”

Wayne came to believe the same thing. For the last years of his life, Wayne returned to the place that he last went to treatment, first as a volunteer and then to work for a fraction of what he previously earned as a sales executive. Wayne writes:

“After being sober for more than a year, I started volunteering at Renascent. As time went by and I always showed up and did well at what they gave me, they started offering me paid shifts. I was offered a full time job in 2007. It was to assess people that wanted to attend our treatment program. My job was to interview them and determine if they were a fit for us and, more importantly, if we were a fit for them.

To say I loved it would be the understatement of all time. For the first time in my life, I had a job that was not a job. It was what I did when I woke up. I could not wait to get there in the mornings.

You see, it was an ideal way for me to live my higher purpose. That way I could be a useful part of the human race.”

Next, let’s look at how Bob describes, call it Twelve Step work or the transformative impact of recovery and service. We might imagine either Wayne or Bob saying the following, which comes from Bob’s last major talk:

“We should attempt to acquire some faith, which isn’t easily done, especially for the person who has always been very materialistic, following the standards of society today. But I think faith can be acquired; it can be acquired slowly; it has to be cultivated. That was not easy of me, and I assume that it is difficult for everyone else.
Another thing that was difficult for me (and probably don’t do it too well yet) was the matter of tolerance. We are all inclined to have closed minds, pretty tightly closed.

That’s one reason why some people find our spiritual teaching difficult. They don’t
want to find out too much about it, for various personal reasons, like the fear of being considered effeminate. But it’s quite important that we do acquire tolerance towards the other fellow’s ideas. I think I have more of it than I did have, although not enough yet. If somebody crosses me, I’m apt to make a rather caustic remark. I’ve done that many times, much to my regret. And then, later on, I find that the man knew much more about it that I did.”

Both men’s recovery was glued together by the faith in being less interested in personal stuff and more interested in their fellows. Both men would agree that Ernie Kurtz’s observations were true; although one of them believes in a supernatural explanation of the process and the other sees a natural explanation for the hows and the whys in their worldview.

Both men are now dead. Both transformed his own life and left the world a better place.

Beyond the belief of each man (which we might be tricked into thinking defines them as people) is their legacy—what they did, the choices they made, the values that they lived by. To be mentally (or spiritually, if you prefer) beyond belief is to be beyond the narcissism of small differences. We are 99% the same which is what Wayne and Bob saw in another when communicating their experience strength and hope. Much of mankind is transfixed in the 1% of what is different in each of us. This is the road to isolation, loneliness or what artists portray as a living death. This loneliness is well known to the alcoholic, as both Dr. Bob and Wayne have shared in their stories.

What freed them from this purgatory? Was it what they believed or what they did? The clue for me is that in one way the two men differ greatly; in one way they appeared to be identical. The result for each, and the lesson it teaches us, is 99% the same. Faith without works is dead. Our works are surely the measure of each man’s life; beyond their beliefs, we find concrete values, which both men lived and left as their legacy.

Read the story of Wayne M, “A Higher Purpose” on AAagnositca:

Read the story of Doctor Bob S. at

Pre-order Ernie Kurtz's new book Experiencing Spirituality (on sale May 15) with best price guarantee:

Grief, the missing link in Big-Book-modality. An interview with John McAndrew Podcast

John McAndrew, MA, MDiv, is a spiritual teacher, facilitator, counselor, musician, and poet.

We found him at the National Conference of Addiction Disorders in Anaheim California, September 2013 giving a talk that asked if the Big Book of Alcoholics Anonymous is still relevant as a treatment modality in the 21st century. Well, as you might anticipate, it has it's strengths and weaknesses. There are core healing principles that have endured and will continue to last. What's missing? As alluded to in the Big Book, "more will be revealed." In treating addiction the more is in the treatment of trauma and grief. John has worked in Hospice, been the Director of Spiritual Care at the Betty Ford Centre and now he is a principle in a project new to 2014, Sensible Spirituality Associates. John knows about sadness, loss and making room and making time for grief.

Join us on Rebellion Dogs Radio as we look at grief and grieving and what our guest, John McAndrew and other 21st voices have to add to the 12-Step process. Listen, reflect and join the conversation.

Please visit:

John McAndrew and Sensible Spirituality Associates
Dr. Geoff Warburton Ted talk on Death and Loss
Laura Prince, Ted talk on Mourning
Nancy Berns, Beyond Closure on Ted
Robert Kegan and Immunity to Change


Rebellion Dogs Radio Episode Two: Wellness Factors Podcast

Rebellion Dogs Radio was partly inspired by the 2013 National Conference of Addiction Disorders (NCAD). Next episode will feature our discussion with John McAndrew, MA, MDiv, the director of Sensible Spirituality Associates. This week we have another NCAD connection. Wellness Factors came by out book back in September 2013 in Anaheim. As a result of that meeting, Joe C. was invited onto Blog Talk Radio as a guest of Farida Contractor, host of Wellness Factors Lunch and Learn and Wellness Factors Directors of Client Care.

Wellness Factors can be found in New York City and the beautiful Okanogan Valley in the interior of Canada's British Columbia. Visit Wellness Factors online to learn more about their publications and how they help Employee Assistance Programs and aid companies with health, wellness and prevention or listen to other episodes of Wellness Factors on Blog Talk Radio.


Beyond Belief is One Year Old - Thank You 

Happy Anniversary everyone! Read as a PDF

This week is the anniversary of the first printing of Beyond Belief: Agnostic Musings for 12 Step Life. There are 1206 people who own a paperback or eBook copy of Beyond Belief. I don’t personally know 1,200 people so someone’s talking it up and that someone is you. In fact some of you have become remarkable champions of the first daily reflection book for nonbelievers, freethinkers and everyone.
This, I want to propose, is way more significant than simply beating the odds of a first-time print-on-demand project, over 90% of which never move 200 units. I think it signifies a paradigm shift. Sorry if you have heard that tired phrase in way too many boardrooms and trade-shows. Let me explain how this modest result is such an accomplishment and why you—not us—are responsible for it all. The first year buyers and readers are what market commentators call the early adaptors or visionaries. Let’s look at how, together, we have already shifted the recovery movement in a new direction—a better direction.

We know Bill Wilson and the other founders were fans of the writings of William James. Pre-Big Book AA leaned on James’s The Varieties of Spiritual Experiences. When Wilson was penning an article for the The Grapevine (July 1946) called, “The Individual In Relation to A.A. as a Group,” Bill W writes those infamous words that we have since celebrated: “So long as there is the slightest interest in sobriety, the most unmoral, the most anti-social, the most critical alcoholic may gather about him a few kindred spirits and announce to us that a new Alcoholics Anonymous Group has been formed. Anti-God, anti-medicine, anti-our Recovery Program, even anti-each other—these rampant individuals are still an AA Group if they think so!”

Of course, unbelievers and nonconformists in recovery are moved by this unabashed assurance that unorthodoxy is as AA as “one day at a time” or “don’t drink and go to meetings.” But just as significant as the individualism that Wilson was celebrating was (as reflected in the title, “The Individual In Relation to A.A. as a Group”) the cue to the society to encourage and champion these odd-balls.

Wilson, along with the more savvy old-timers, counted on their fledgling society to muster the courage to change; any society that was going to survive, would need to adapt as foreshadowed in early writing—“We know but a little,” “More will be revealed,” “Never fear needed change.”[i]
And what does change for the better look like? Well, it is un-pretty, cloaked in unpopularity and clamoring with controversy. Born of discontent, the survival of this anti-social, anti-whatever faction depends on being embraced by a flexible, trusting and tolerant society. Could AA do that? Does that sound crazy or impossible? It may well be that the genesis of Wilson’s scheme came from his readings of Williams James.

In a lecture called, “Great Men, Great Thoughts, and the Environment” delivered before the Harvard Natural History Society (published in the Atlantic Monthly, October, 1880) William James says this: “Thus social evolution is a resultant of the interaction of two wholly distinct factors, - the individual, deriving his peculiar gifts from the play of physiological and infra-social forces, but bearing all the power of initiative and originations in his hands; and, second, the social environment, with its power of adopting or rejecting both him and his gifts.” What resonates with where we stand today in 12 & 12 recovery is how James drives this idea home, “Both factors are essential to change. The community stagnates without the impulse of the individual. The impulse dies away without the sympathy of the community.”

James says that our society will stagnate without the impulse of the individual. While it starts with one person saying, “This isn’t good enough, we can do better,” without the sympathy of the community it would all be for not.

Let’s say a single member feels malnourished by the lack of secular support literature in Twelve Step rooms. He writes a book into an untested market after pitching the idea and being rejected by both Hazelden and HCI Books. So what; so far we have nothing but one restless malcontent. To breathe evolution into the chaos, the impulse of the individual (or the whole writing/editing team) had to freefall into the sympathetic arms and hearts of a recovery community.

What we celebrate on the anniversary of the first printing of Beyond Belief: Agnostic Musings for 12 Step Life is not the impulse of an individual, but the sympathy of our community. One person does not a 12 Step meeting make and a new book being read by a couple dozen recovering members does not constitute the evolution of a society that James pointed towards. But a thousand people just might be the start of evolution. I think this is very, very exciting and very, very hopeful.

We hear and read a lot of discontent about society—our recovery society—dogmatically bogging down into the reification of our principles and infighting among clashing personalities. Okay, true enough, you read a lot of this type of bitching from this very site and these clashing personalities. But while we seemingly bitch and finger-point, maybe we are becoming or evolving into what Ghandi called the change we “want to see in the world.”

You see, we are the Fellowship; it isn’t a rented office in Manhattan or a General Service Conference each April. Our society’s heart beats in every group through the words and deeds of every member.
Paperbacks Sales
Direct from Rebellion Dogs Publishing 324
Bookstores 188
Amazon 405
Conferences/Conventions 52
Direct from Rebellion Dogs Publishing 18
Amazon (Kindle) 164
Kobo, Sony, iTunes, B&N 33
 Libraries 22
Total 1,206
Beyond Belief: Agnostic Musings for 12 Step Life is one year old now.
This is a time to share our joy and express our gratitude to all supporters. After one year in the market, 1,206 people own a copy of Beyond Belief. It isn’t the end of day-jobs for anyone at Rebellion Dogs but it is something to be thankful for. Coming from me (Joe C), I don’t actually know over a thousand people so I have all of you to thank for talking up this book, your encouragement and the many who are the champions of this book.
For you curious cats, here is how it broke down: Paperbacks were preferred five to one, although several people want and have the book in both formats. Over two dozen booksellers, libraries and treatment centers have seen fit to bring this book to the attention of their visitors/clients.
In any sales cycle there are the innovators who take the leap of faith before others have heard about the new offering, followed by the early adapters, the early majority, late majority and finally the laggards who buy something once it’s in Walmart. We are now at the early adapter stage.
In technology, enthusiasts are in first because nerds love new technology for technologies sake. The love is not conditional on what the ultimate impact of the new technology is. The second phase is the visionaries; they are ahead of the crowd and buy in at top dollar to be there first. They see progress, momentum and potential and pay a premium to say, “I was there at the start.” The pragmatists join in when the price is more reasonable, the conservative are there once “everyone is doing it” and finally the skeptics give up and give it a try.

Everyone who owns a book now is an innovator, buying into an un-tested product, aimed at an unmet need. It is you that I want to thank and celebrate in this blog post.
Lessons from the music business
Derek Sivers uses the term first follower(s) to describe the significance of innovators and early adapters. First followers turn a lone nut into a leader. In the way James recognized the needed combination of an individual impulse and community sympathy, Sivers recognizes that the leader(s) is over-glorified because it is really the first follower(s) who showed courage and start a movement. Wayne’s World wouldn’t be a world without Garth. Bill Wilson wasn’t a fellowship; Bill Wilson and Dr. Bob Smith, together, were the start of the AA fellowship.
Derek Sivers knows of what he speaks. He was a competent musician and composer but we don’t know him for these gifts. His claim to fame is founding CD Baby. Derek started helping to market other artists’ music and this became a multi-million dollar company. CD Baby was one of the early non-pornography internet sales success stories that Amazon, eBay, and many others have emulated. Our early adapting booksellers are the same heroes that Derek Sivers champions in a TED Talk and three minute video.
The first retail stores that stocked Beyond Belief are some of what Sivers calls “first followers.” The most encouraging news I hear is that where Beyond Belief is on bookshelves, about half of the sales were from people who came into the store to buy something else. The book has a “Hey, what a good idea!” effect. Some of these stores are addiction/recovery specialty stores and others are more general booksellers that happen to have a well-stocked Self-Help section.
The big picture of the daily reflection market
While I don’t know what the potential market for an agnostic daily reflection book really is or will be, we are off to a good start. Sure, if I wanted a best-seller I would have written another book for the rest of the marketplace that embraces and never tires of theistic daily devotionals. The total marketplace for these books is in the area of 750,000 unit sales per year. People who read Conference annual reports tell me AA sells over 150,000 Daily Reflections paperbacks each year. On Amazon, several books of this type outsell AA’s offering. Hazelden’s Each Day a New Beginning (for Women) and the 1954 Twenty-four Hours A Day outsell Daily Reflections. Outselling all of the daily reflection books, for codependents, is Melody Beattie’s Language of Letting Go. That book was written in 1990 and is still in the top 35,000 of the over one million books sold on, today.
There are daily devotionals for men, young people, newcomers, Al-Anon members and recovering drug addicts. All of them assume a creator-God worldview. I think all the ones I mentioned, outsold Beyond Belief in the last 12 months. That’s Okay; sure I have a competitive streak. I’d like to kick-ass, but that’s up to the public, not me. If someone told me that, “1,200 and only 1,200 want and need this book; it will cost you more that you will make—will you write a daily reflection book that includes people who don’t believe in God?” I would have said yes.
If 5% of the 750,000 people who buy daily devotionals would prefer an agnostic version, that can translate to 35,000 Beyond Belief owners a year. We can do that.
The Varieties of Beyond Belief Experiences
According to Paul Simon there are 50 ways to leave your lover. How many ways are there to use Beyond Belief? Some read it alone, some with a friend and some in a 12 Step group. Some people read a page each day. Some flip through and read pages at random. Some go to the index and look up musings on specific topics like relapse, Step Six, open-mindedness or work-life. In this way some group chairs pick a topical musing to read as a kick off to group discussion the way Living Clean, As Bill Sees It or Twenty-four Hours A Day are used. How many of you noticed that the 10th of each month is the Tradition that corresponds with that month? March 10th is Tradition Three, for instance. Okay, so that’s me being nerdy. Ernie Kurt talked about reading with a pad and a pen to one side. Is anyone mucking their Beyond Belief? That would be kinda’ cultish. Others would like another index at the back so quote sources. That way, if you wanted to look up what dates Bill W or Janis Joplin or Carl Jung are quoted, you could. Maybe in a future version we can make room for that.
We Are All “the change we want to see in the world”
Today’s celebration isn’t about one book. This last year other agnostic/atheist books have been released into the addiction/recovery community and older ones are getting a second life. Roger C who authored The Little Book also edits which is a hub of evolution. Look at all the Yahoo, Facebook and Google sites devoted to agnostic 12 Step community. Slightly older books, The 12 Step Buddhist, The Skeptics Guide to the 12 Steps and Waiting: A Nonbelievers Higher Power, are all catalysts of our evolution. Rebellion Dogs Publishing has changed our own bookstore page to celebrate many great books that represent our changing community.

No music fan owns just one record. No book-based society thrives on just one book—no matter what the thumpers might tell you. We aim to champion great books the way you have helped us spread the word about Beyond Belief. Play it forward, they say.
Everyone of you who has started or helped to start a group—you are visionaries, too. Two thirds of the agnostic AA groups listed on the NYC agnostic AA worldwide group directory didn’t exist before the year 2000. The change we demand and anguish over not being a reality is already happening.
So often we cry out about either the antiquated Big Book or the change-resistance of so many members but we miss the view of the forest because of the tree we are focused on. Who is the fellowship if it is not us? What is going on is cause for celebration. Sure, be a watchdog, identify wrongs and defend scapegoats. But let us not be so preoccupied with fault-finding that we miss the glorious truth that what we want has already started. Sure, it’s the one year key-tag, cake or medallion for Beyond Belief and everyone in recovery and every tool in the recovery tool-kit is a sign of hope. It takes a community to raise a child, help an addict recovery or move towards the society we want our children to feel included and welcome in.
It’s happening. Watch the three minute Derek Sivers Ted Talk
[i] “Let us never fear needed change. Certainly we have to discriminate between changes for the worse and changes for the better. But once a need becomes clearly apparent in an individual, in a group, or in AA as a whole, it has long since been found out that we cannot stand still and look the other way. The essence of all growth is a willingness to change for the better and then an unremitting willingness to shoulder whatever responsibility this entails.” Bill W. A.A. Grapevine “July 1965

Rebellion Dogs Radio Episode One Podcast

Welcome to Rebellion Dogs Addiction & Recovery Radio Show, bringing you a 21st century look at 12 Step life, with more bite and less dogma.

Play the show in your own audio player or download it. Please note, it's a big file and might take a couple of minutes to download. Otherwise, scroll down and use the Pod-o-matic player which fires up right away...

I am currently reading Robert Kegan and Lisa Laskow Lahey’s Immunity to Change: How to Overcome It and Unlock the Potential in Yourself and Your Organization (Harvard Business School Publishing, 2009). Kegan is on record as saying:
“Successfully functioning in a society with diverse values, traditions and lifestyles requires us: to have a relationship to our own reactions rather than be captive of them; to resist our tendencies to make right or true, that which is merely familiar, and wrong or false, that which is only strange.”
Who doesn’t dismiss or is at least get uncomfortable with the unfamiliar. However, what’s the danger of making sacred that with is familiar? What is the danger of dismissing or demonizing that which seems strange to our way of doing things?

Our blogs have been focused on the Vancouver situation for a couple of weeks and in 2014 they are treating as new, the same situation Bill Wilson dealt with 60 years ago: Who gets to say who or what is a real A.A. group?

In Bill W’s AA, if you want to change the Steps so they fit with your worldview – go for it. Will there be any pressure from AA to either conform or get the hell out of here – never. In a film about the Traditions Bill confesses that the Twelve Traditions are contrary to his own knee-jerk reactions. He had his own agenda and his own secret aims for AA. The Twelve Traditions reflect the experience that his fears proved to be groundless and his ambitions were purely egotistical. Our Traditions are not from the wisdom of AA elders but born of the bad experiences of following first impulses. In this inaugural podcast Bill W himself, warns us that the Traditions are to guard against temptations that are bound to resurface, the temptation to govern and the human tendency toward rigidity, fear and intolerance.

If we don’t know our history we are damned—damned to repeat it, so we take a time-capsule trip back to 1957 when AA history set in place the standard to deal with non-conforming AA groups that want to do their own thing and aren’t asking anyone’s permission to do it.

Coming Up this month we will be talking with a filmmaker from Oregon who will talk about why addicts are so fascinating, an addiction treatment professional from California who talks about the missing component to the Big Book approach – shame, guilt and trauma work, plus a University of Toronto Psychology teacher who will be talking to us about coming to terms with our own capacity for both evil and virtue.

That’s not very one-day-at-a-time now is it? As for February, I hope all those ideas will come from y’all. Let us know what’s on your mind. We’ll hunt down the answers.
This is our new show and this is our new intro music. Tell us how you like it. news AT rebelliondogspublishingDOTcom

Read or download Show Transcripts - Check out AAagnostica to see what others are saying about the subject.

Listen, download, stream at Rebellion Dog's Pod-0-omatic Page.

The player below will stream but it takes a few minutes to kick in (it's a 50 minute track). If you're impatient, the Pod-0-matic link above is instant.

When You’re Not the Lead Dog© Joe C, Jesse Beatson, The Chronicles
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Like jumping from a ledge or retreating to a burning building
Time to choose the uncertain or settle for breaking even
A parable comes to mind from one of life’s wise Eskimos
I don’t remember it exactly but here is how it goes:
When you’re not the lead dog, the view never changes
Life’s a crowded room full of faceless strangers
When you’re not the lead dog, the view never changes
I can’t settle for getting by so bring on the dangers
You confess you have a dream – the other’s just don’t get it
Like an aging hipster, you don’t want to be pathetic
So you’re torn between a good living and a good life
You ask if it’s worth the risk, the sweat, the strife. You asking me?
When you’re not the lead dog, the view never changes
Life’s a crowded room full of faceless strangers
When you’re not the lead dog, the view never changes
I can’t settle for getting by so bring on the dangers
I won’t bah like a sheep, so I fight what I seek
You won’t put me to rest with my concerto incomplete
Life is not a punishment – more like a treasure hunt
So I’m jumping from the ledge and taking a run for the front

  1. Rebellion Dogs Radio Episode 01
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