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Welcome to Rebellion Dogs Publishing, home to Rebellion Dogs Radio, Beyond Belief: Agnostic Musings for 12 Step Life and a community for freethinkers in recovery.

Registration is now open: Emotional Sobriety a FREE mini-conference August 29th, 10 AM - 1 PM PT, 1 PM - 4 PM ET, 6 PM - 9 PM BT

CLICK HERE TO REGISTER for this free event

I am so excited to be working with Marya Hornbacher, Dr. Allen Berger, John R. Arizona Recovery Community feels like my home away from home. This is a pandemic party-at-home zoom webinar event. Share the link, re-post; just ask everyone to register so we have  an idea about registrations.

Who are you? Who, who, who who! Or more accurately, where are you from. This week the top cities visiting Rebellion Dogs are Calgary AB, Toronto, San Francisco, London UK, New York, Melbourne, AZ, Los Angeles, Chicago, Birmingham UK, Montreal abd Phoenix (180 cities in all in the last week).

NEW BLOG August 2020

Americans are deeply religious people—and atheists are no exception.

Europeans are deeply secular people—and Christians are no exception.”

The August Blog explores new data including AA membership trends from Y2K to 2020, Pew Research insights into how people identify re their worldview and how "secular" or "religious" identity means something different, depending where you live in the world. We have information from AA's 70th General Service Conference with a look at goings on in literature and our new high-tech (not so much high-touch) AA meetings. CLICK to download or read HERE

 

July Report: Happy Anniversary, Alcoholics Anonymous! We are 85 and look at us. We are all online and embracing new technology. Who said, we're old dogs who can't learn new tricks?

It's July and many of us planned on going to Detroit for the 85th party AA International Convention that happens every five years. The International Conference of Secular AA was going to be one of many hospitality suites greeting AA members from around the world and charming them with our secular, heathen ways. It's all  been cancelled due to COVID-19. So we won't all meet in person until 2025 in Vancouver, now. But AA Central Office - with the help of the Detroit host committee - is posting a virtual Detroit 2020 at aa.org. Love and Tolerance is our Code - that's the them for AA 2020. CLiCK HERE or the pic above for video from the host committee, pictures of past conventions starting in 1950, and pre-recorded audio content including an Old-times panel of members who sobered up in the '50s and '60s, news about Vancouver 2025 and more. It's like taking a trip without leaving the farm.

On Zoom, some of you were asking about the first We Agnostics panel held 30 years ago when the AA World Convention was in Seattle (1990). Want to hear it? This features some moving accounts of AA members gathering in secular AA meetings or doing it for themselves. CLICK HERE to hear from Bruce and Sarah, members of the We Agnostics, Atheists & Freethinkers Group, (one of four secular AA meetings in Seattle at the time), Charlie P, 19 years sober from the Hollywood We Agnostics group, Phyllis (New York Agnostics) with 23 years sobriety and Mary from Daytona Beach.

Beyond Belief Agnostic Musings for 12 Step Life reached a new humble milestone in June: 18,000 paperbacks and/or eBooks are on smartphones, computers and bedside tables, being used as meeting starters or enjoyed privately, each day. It's a humble milestone because this reflects your support over 6 1/2 years. AA's Daily Reflections sells 18,000 every sixty days, and it's still outsold by Twenty-four Hours A Day.

So we're not changing the world, we're catering to a previously unmet (and growing demand) among our heathen Twelve-Step community of skeptics and humanists. We are grateful and we are happy. If we wanted a best-seller we would have written a book for our "more religious members." They love that stuff. There's talk about an audio book version and a French translation. Oh, and correcting some of the punctuation errors on the eBook version. Keep sending your questions, corrections, observations. We're all in this together.

Coming soon.... Rebellion Dogs Radio: Big Book Fundamentalism and why truth doesn't change minds - friendship does.

June 2020 Podcast, #53. There's been a serge of new people to the secular AA zoom meetings. We want to back up a bit and talk about the Why secular AA, How we do secular AA, a brief history of secular AA - which, even if you've been around a while, it is surprising to see a rational, practical (secular) view of AA has always been championed from on corner of AA or another. We'll talk about the 1963 secular (10) steps from San Fran in 1965, the secular (7) Steps in Sweden in the early 1950s. Founders celebrated all of these artistic liberties. Also, hot off the press, Reality Check: Being Nonreligious in America survey and study has some analysis that really speaks to the range of positive to prickly experiences atheists and agnostics get in AA.... and the value of irreligious AA to serve an underrepresented minority in the rooms. Anyway, click the pick for Episode 53

a look at vital AA history. Why the only requirement for membership tradition is so vital to special purpose groups and underrepresented populations. This is Barry L (author of Living Sober)'s last talk

Remembering our AA history: contributions of Barry L, sober in 1945, editor of Living Sober, Do You Think You're Different? and many General Service Conference Final Reports. Listen to his last talk about Tradition Three - why you and I are members of AA if we say we are... no vetting, no cost, no barriers. CLICK here (or the PIC) to go to our blog including the Montreal 1985 talk by Barry L

COVID-19 NOTICE: Many peer-to-peer (mutual aid) groups that have been accustomed to meeting in person are now online only. For a list a growing list (being updated daily) of zoom meetings CLICK HERE for a Google Sheets link including hyperlinks to meetings that can be used as they begin.

For interest only: Beyond Belief Agnostics & Freethinkers AA (Toronto) Group's collection of 12-Step variations (7 versions) CLICK HERE

EPISODE 52 of Rebellion Dogs Radio will feature a round-table from around North America. Peer-to-peer online meeting moderators discuss Zoom meetings, Zoom-bombing (pranksters and intruders) and new measures to reach out to people looking for recovery while maintaining a safe, private place for mutual-aid regulars and people looking for help. The show's under construction but there are some quick tips on participating in or running zoom meetings already posted. EPISODE 52 the podcast is available to download, stream or share, now. CLICK HERE for more NOW

Be safe. 

For the one-on-one interview CLICK HERE for Rebellion Dogs Radio

CLICK THE PIC or HERE to hear the show:

Joe C as a guest on other podcasts:

In the last year of Ernie Kurtz’s life, along with William L. White, they published a paper called “Recovery Spirituality in Religions, (2015, 6, 58–81; doi:10.3390/rel6010058 CLICK FOR LINK

CLICK HERE FOR THE LINK to STREAM or DOWNLOAD episode 325 of Humanize Me - Bart Campolo of Humanize Me Podcast and Joe yackin' it up.

Here more Bart Campolo here - HUMANIZE ME:

 Share The Shair Podcast 138 to your heart's content. http://theshairpodcast.com/shair-138-atheists-agnostics-and-addiction-recovery-with-joe-c/
 

 




 

 
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Rebellion Dogs Blog

A 2020 look at AA's year in review: progressive and traditionalist baby-zoomers 

This blog available in PDF: CLICK HERE

This just in:

  • The latest insights and stats from AA General Service Conference.
  • New studies about worldview that explain our recovery culture a little bit better.
  • COVID-19 life finds doors are shut; other doors are opening. We have lots to unpack in this blog. But hey, we do have some time on our hands. For your consideration, 

We offer recovery musings away from news/weather/sports for a half hour. 

England and America—two nations divided by a common language—this quip was attributed to George Bernard Shaw in 1942 Readers Digest. So yes, this attribution is a similar time frame to Herbert Spencer being misattributed about the dangers of contempt prior to investigation in a re-writing of Alcoholics Anonymous 

“The new 1941 Appendix lacked not only its later full title, but also the quote attributed to Herbert Spencer, which wasn’t added to                                   ‘Spiritual Experience’ until the third printing of the second edition in 1959.(Writing the Big Book)”[i] 

Oh, if only these icons of thought had immortalized their words on Facebook, like we do; we could “fact check”. But back to divided by a common language... In our new anyone-from-anywhere zoom meeting world, words mean different things to different boxes on the screen. Our language of the heart uses the same words but is open to interpretation and misinterpretation. 

Alcoholics Anonymous, and all mutual aid groups, have a group-speak. If only these widely used words shared widely agreed upon meaning. Some recent studies comparing European and American communication about religious/spiritual concepts seems to reinforce the notion that “Yeah, but AA is spiritual—not religious,” means widely different things and we now have evidence to support the idea that the locality of our meetings has an influence over what these words mean. Pew Research findings shines a light on regional influences on 12-step culture from worldview to literature and slogans. 

Looking at Pew Research Group’s findings, in The Atlantic[ii], Segal Samuel mused over how Americans are different that Western Europeans (May of 2018): 

“Americans are deeply religious people—and atheists are no exception. 

Europeans are deeply secular people—and Christians are no exception.” 

How do these characteristics inform AAs community that includes “deeply religious” and “secular” AA members? Consensus on what AA members (& other 12-steppers) believe, might be wishful thinking. We hear that the inclusive 12-step culture does not demand that you or I believe anything. Still, some freethinkers feel the concern or hostility from others when we express ourselves candidly. And some progressives bemoan that an overbearing theistic orthodoxy in AA does not meet today’s newcomer where they’re at, the way AA-language did in the 1950s. 

The earliest AA literature frames addiction as a state of powerlessness. The remedy is outside agency. In 1939, most AA’s were raised to understand outside agency as being supernatural. No belief system is a requirement for membership. Nonetheless, a newcomer could draw a connection that belonging and believing in AA, were tied together. This 20th century middle-America God as you understand Him" remains widely supported in the rooms. Meanwhile, a persistent secular wave challenges the supremacy of a theistic AA philosophy.

It is so simple if you enjoy the candor of A Newcomer Asks (AAWS p-24). Our pamphlet describes our membership as falling into one of three beliefs: the existence of a supernatural higher power, a secular power or no need/want for a higher power, at all: 

There’s a lot of talk about God, though, isn’t there? 

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. 

  1. Many people call it God, 
  2. others think it is the A.A. group, 
  3. 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. 

The word “God” or “spiritual” are problematic insofar as there is less and less consensus of what these words mean in relation to recovery from alcoholism. Pew Research Group confirms that people who speak this abstract language don’t share concrete definitions to being or not being religious or secular. Europeans differ from Americans but in both cases researchers find it hard to tell what someone believes based on how they self-identify. 

Pew widely reports that about a quarter of Americans are now part of the growing “nones (religiously unaffiliated).” A 2017 Pew poll[iii] gets more specific. Respondents in the USA were asked, “Do you believe in God or not?” 

  • Yes: 80% 
  • No: 19% 

It’s settled then; oh, but wait... Of the 80% who answered, “Yes,” Pew Research Group probed further: 56% of Americans believe in “God as described in the Bible, “plus 23% of self-identified believers, “believe in some other higher power/spiritual force.” A rose by any other name is still a rose but this isn’t as true for abstractions. 

Of the 19% of Pew respondents who identify as nonbelievers, we find the same ambiguity: 10% of Americans, “Do not believe in any higher power/spiritual force” Another 9% say, “No, I do not believe in God, AND I do believe in some form of higher power/spiritual force.” 

Age is a factor. The survey of 4,700 Americans reveals self-identified nonbelievers in 16% of under 30-year-olds (“do not believe in God or higher power of any kind”). Of 30 to 49-year-olds, 13% do not hold supernatural beliefs. Atheism thins out among older Americans; 4 to7% of those aged 50+, do not believe in any higher power. 

In a July 20, 2020 Pew report called, The Global God Divide [iv]  current and relevant data that characterize the communities outside our meetings that must inform the local AA philosophy. Widely speaking, you can see the trend this century towards a secular view in developed countries. The USA does stay stubbornly theistic compared to others. Note for instance, only in America do more than ½ of people still see daily prayer as important. Other Pew investigations we will get to shortly, ask questions that are very AA-relevant. But here is a 2020 snapshot: while declining, the relevance of God remains greater in the USA than some other English-speaking AA countries

Pew Research Questions 2019 USA UK Canada Australia
Belief in God needed to be Moral 44% 20% 26% 19%
God plays important role in life 72% 40% 52% 38%
Prayer is important 67% 31% 42% 32%

 

The Atlantic, which characterized USA and Euro differences in their relationship with the labels “secular” or “Christian,” was musing over one 2017 Pew Research Center study that made interesting comparisons. Respondents were asked if they “Believe in God with absolute certainty.” 

Answering, “Yes:” compare 15% of W. Europeans to 63% of Americans. That is a big cultural difference. 

Breaking respondents into people who identified as “Christian” vs. “religiously unaffiliated”... 

  • 23% of Christian European plus 3% of Unaffiliated Europeans(believe in God). 
  • 63% of Christian Americans plus 27% of Unaffiliated Americans (believe in God). 

Irreligious Western Europeans don’t believe in gods. Some irreligious Americans do. If this Western Europeans vs. Americans difference is the same in AA meetings, then the way members self-identify and what that says about their worldview varies differently from opposite sides of the Atlantic Ocean. So, are AA Americans deeply religious and AA Europeans deeply secular? 

In a historical switch, the “old country” of AA is America and Europe is the brave new land. For Europeans, AA is imported from the USA. Did they import the literal interpretations? The “God as we understand Him/Her/Them” in American meetings means the “God of the Bible” or “some form of higher power/spiritual force,” by 90% of members (assuming AA members are the same demographic as research respondents). Only 10% of American members dismiss god(s) as superstition or use a G.O.D. acronym to describe a humanist aid found in AA sobriety. 

Across the Atlantic, a mere 15% of AAs holds an anthropomorphic “God as we understand Him/Her/Them” notion while 85% regard the god-idea as AA-talk that their American cousins use—more poetic than literal. 

There seems no reason to believe “God could and would if He were sought” has the same meaning to the same number of members in Glasgow or Amsterdam AA as in the USA where belief in AA gods reigns supreme. Or do Europeans view AA as a solution to alcohol use disorder, only for the religious few? Neither American nor European members hold universally agreed upon worldviews. But is the godly AA language hurting AA's reputation outside of the United States?.

People are leaving AA outside America, according to January 2020 AA statistics. But for those who do stay in international AA, the secular voice is influencing AA literature and culture. Zoom brings members from around the world to each others local meetings. What impact is the blending of more secular and more orthodox AA having? . 

Hot Off The Press: 70th General Service Conference Final Report (2020) 

The 2020 General Service Conference was the first to be held online due to COVID-19. AA is 85 years old and this was our 70th General Service Conference to discuss the business of AA as a whole. According to this report and records reported in the Summer edition of Box 4-5-9: News & Notes from GSO {General Service Office] each year: 

  • USA AA membership increased by 17% from 2000 to 2020. (up 200,000 members from 1,162,112 to 1,361,471 members) 
  • Canada shed 12% of its members in AA from 98,816 in 2000 to 87,840 in 2020). 
  • World members (Outside USA/Canada) lost 29% of members falling from 833,100 at Y2K to 588,703 members remaining at January of this year.[iv] 

Overall, AA is slightly smaller over two decades (-4%) but we are more of an American fellowship that we were at the turn of the century. 

There is more in the Conference Report. Julio was in charge of inviting all of AA to Detroit in July of 2020. The city and convention center have been preparing for twelve years to welcome an estimated 75,000 AA and Al-Anon Family members. The breaks got put on our 2020 85th anniversary party’s physical gathering in Detroit and plans switched to a virtual online world convention. Julio reports on this great adventure. 

The theme for the 2021 conference will be AA in changing times. If that resonates with you, get to your Area Assemblies and regional forums (on zoom) to discuss your passions. Every dollar, email and phone call are accounted for and reported on. Ask your General Service Rep for a PDF of the 2020 report if you want to read it yourself.

The Literature Desk: every pamphlet tells a story don't it? 

Our United Kingdom General Service Office has influenced the AA language over the years. 

Remember that A Newcomer Asks pamphlet that speaks so candidly about “room in A.A. for people of all shades of belief and non-belief?” While most literature is first written and printed by AA World Services in New York and then adopted by English AA around the world, A Newcomer Asks is one of two exceptions. This was created in Britain for local use and outreach (Cooperation with the Professional Community and Public Information). 

An American visiting the UK picked one up from a London literature table, brought it home to the States, one thing led to another, and in 1980, the USA/Canada General Service Conference adopted the UK pamphlet. 

Today, this UK import, A Newcomer Asks, is the second-best seller in AA pamphlets next to Is AA for You? This expression of the equivalency of power of AA being explained as God, the group, or nothing at all, exemplifies a more European, more secular temperament especially compared to the deeply religious loudest voice in the American room. 

As of 2016, the second British import to the USA/Canada literature racks was The “God” Word: Agnostics and Atheists in AA. Published by the UK GSO in 2014 to meet local demand, The “God” Word was sought-after by secular AA members and groups in USA and Canada, too. 

The same atheist/agnostic pamphlet was explored by the USA/Canada General Service Conference eleven times  from the 1970s until 2012 at the New York conference. For the more Christian American influenced conference, creating an equal voice to godless heathens was a bridge to far. Eleven proposals for Atheist/Agnostics literature were mothballed by our more Christian conference. 

That wasn’t the fault of the USA/Canada’s literature committee. Valiant efforts over the years, to collect stories, create a draft pamphlet and make requested changes were all for not when the conference couldn’t muster enough votes to pass the Conference Literature Committee’s recommendation to approve a pamphlet of atheists and agnostics from Canada and the USA telling their stories of alcoholism and recovery. The closest GSO came was what got transformed into Many Paths to Spirituality. Many Paths, serves a purpose but it fell short from the decades long requests for nonbelievers talking about alcoholism and recovery in our own unabashed language. 

Meanwhile, in the UK, the need was recognized in 2012 and by 2014, The “God” Word: Agnostics and Atheists in AA was available. An obvious need met by an uncontroversial solution in our more secular AA society.   

Having a conference approved pamphlet for atheist and agnostics, from the British General Service Conference, forged a viable path for USA/Canada to satisfy an unmet need. Like A Newcomer Asks before it, it was far easier for North Americans to adopt an existing AA pamphlet, we had done it already. 

Secular AA groups requested this in the most palatable way possible for the conference. Freethinkers AA groups from New York, Kansas City, Toronto and several other regions, approached their districts about bringing a motion to their respective areas to ask GSO to adopt the British pamphlet so it could be available to USA and Canada groups in English, Spanish and French. All districts felt the want and need and voted “yes.” District Committee Members expressed their General Service Reps views to Area committees who put the adoption of the British pamphlet on the agenda. The motion came to the floors of each Area Assembly. Supporters and dissenters had their sayand several of USA/Canada’s 93 areas directed their delegate to ask the conference to adopt and approve The “God” Word. It was put on the agenda, discussed in the run up to the conference, voted on and overwhelming unanimity righted the wrong of previous attempts to provide a voice of AA from atheist and agnostic members just like women, LGBTQ+ and young members, African American and indigenous members along with other underrepresented populations. 

The 2020 General Service Conference Final Report notes that we ordered over 93,000 English copies in 2019 in Canada/USA, along with these French and Spanish orders. 

  • Le Mot “Dieu”—Membres agnostiques et athées chez les AA sold 5,807 of a total of 68,964 French pamphlets 
  • La palabra “Dios” — Los miembros de A.A. agnósticos y ateos sold 3,116 of a total of 222,560 Spanish pamphlets. 

This year, the corrections committee reported that it has included The “God” Word in their package to wardens, inmates, and members of the criminal justice system. The “God” Word was quoted in an address by Shyrl B of Ohio, talking about “Recovery: Who Is Missing in Our Rooms?” Pointing out that AA groups are not above, “marginalization due to race, gender and other factors.” Shyrl reminds us, “to continue practicing love and tolerance with people whose skin color, language, sex, orientation, beliefs, and social status differ from our own.” 

From the 70th General Service Conference there was some news about modernizing Living Sober. Maybe you would like to have your say, now’s the timee. 

  • Some draft language regarding Safety in AA will be prepared in 2020 for our booklet, Living Sober
  • Request to add a subtitle to the booklet, Living Sober

Living Sober: In 2019, USA/Canada members bought 115,000 English paperbacks and eBooks were sold, 10,500 Spanish editions and another 3,000 in French. 

Secularphobia in AA. 

The “God” Word pamphlet origins are a case-in-point of deeply secular Europe and a deeply Christian American AA dynamic. Let us share some behind-the-scenes drama that tells more of the tale of two worldviews AA.

We all wrestle with conscious and unconscious bias, right? For some of our “more religious members,” fear and hostility smoldered from the conference legitimizing AA without a prayer. Secularphobia is an irrational fear and disgust felt by believers towards humanist, nontheist AAs. 

Maybe if you see life as a zero-sum game, minorities getting catered to threatens the supremacy of theism. All this “no God—no problem” AA sentiment is threatening to the zealot. “They’re coming for our Big Books” is the kind of irrational flood-gate fear that fuels secularphobia. Some AA conservatives, asked, “Can we Make AA Great Again? Can this atheist-affirming literature be un-done?” 

A request to reverse the good fortune on nonbelievers was brought to the 2019 Literature desk to deal with. To understand how inclusive AA as a whole’s positive overtures were in 2020 regarding secular literature, read the anti-atheist efforts that were dealt with by the conference literature report in 2019 (69th General Service Conference):

  • Consider discontinuing the booklet Living Sober. The committee considered a request to discontinue the booklet Living Sober and took no action. The committee agreed that there was not a widely expressed need in the Fellowship. 
  • Consider discontinuing the pamphlet The “God” Word. The committee considered a request to dis-continue the pamphlet The “God” Word and took no action. The committee noted that it was important to allow time to assess the Fellowship’s response to the pamphlet and that in four months over 38,000 copies of the pamphlet have been purchased since its release in October 2018. It was also noted that there was not a widely expressed need in the Fellowship for discontinuation of the pamphlet. 

If you are for inclusion—never exclusion in AA, the General Service Board has your back. Having done some primary research in the AA archives regarding literature, here is a simplified version of the process for literature being written and/or discontinued. 

Any request from the membership will be considered by the General Service Conference. The breadth of the request has influence. If it’s one letter of support or condemnation, less sway is achieved than if a group, heard through their district and area delegate requests that the Conference direct AA World Services to explore the creation (or discontinuation) of a pamphlet or other form of literature. 

Here  are the several levels of review. The trustees’ Literature Committee (TLC) meets four times per year to explore these requests. If they agree to pursue ideas, they make suggestions to the Conference Literature Committee (CLC). The CLC meets once a year and is made up of trustees, staff and conference delegates. 

A suggestion from the TLC will either be: 

  1. brought to the conference for a vote, 
  2. sent back to the TLC by the CLC for more exploration or clarification or 
  3. not proceeded with. 

Only a TLC recommendation that is approved by the CLC is brought to the conference for discussion and possibly a vote. Only when a motion to approve a recommendation is brough to the conference floor can a proposal be “conference approved,” and given back to the TLC to carry out the wishes of the conference, on behalf of members and groups. 

The conference floor can send the proposal back for clarification or flushing out or with particular suggestions in which case, no vote would be taken; voting would be tabled for a future General Service Conference, which meets once a year in April. 

You see how these things can go back and forth and take years before final approval or defeat. As every request from the membership is given consideration from the General Service Office/Conference that serves the members, this request to ban/discontinue the secular literature, Living Sober and The “God” Word were given the least amount of attention warranted. We see that the trustees discussed it and never passed it on to the Conference Literature Committee for consideration. Even when literature wanted/ needed by the few is disparaged by the many, control of the few by the many is often avoided in AA.

This painfully slow curve of the moral arch is frustrating to many. You or I would not be the first AA member to call the deliberation process backward because we are sure our ideas obviously are best for AA as a whole; “Save time, see it my way”. But this seemingly tedious process, not perfect by any means, does take the wind out of rash or short-sighted ideas. Even when we are a majority, we may be uninformed, misinformed, hasty or angry. Safeguards are in place to protect the minority from the tyranny of the majority.

A case for petty tribalism in AA

Below this general tolerance of our more religious members and our irreligious members there is a constant tension that ebbs and flows. On one hand, the anti-secular conservative cancel-culture counterparts tried to undo AA’s legacy of secular literature. Progressives would undo holy writ if they could, in the same way conservatives try to control the narrative. We rail against the sexism, heteronormative, religious, outdated Big Book, and demand that its preserved form be cancelled and replaced with a contemporary, scientifically validated, more culturally sensitive version. 

This is the reality of coexisting secular and Judeo/Christian stripes. Sometimes one side or another gets our mini-victories or consolation prizes. Here’s an example of conservative AA encroaching on take-what-you-like-leave-the-rest altruism. 

Can we agree that both liberals and conservatives love AA and want it to be here to help our grandchildren, if necessary? However, the left sees conservative’s refusal to update the AA narrative as forcing AA to early obsolescence. Conservatives see watered down AA as losing our way, moving away from a winning formula that works if you work it, 75% of the time. These are views, not empirical facts. 

So it isn’t enough that one camp has the literature and freedom they need; the other side has to be contained; those people and their AA-deteriorating ways should be replaced by our more right way of doing things. In a culture-war way of seeing things, having complete autonomy to what my group wants isn’t enough. For AA’s survival, we need to cancel the dangerous culture of “others.” 

Huffington Post writes:

“The panic over ‘cancel culture’ is, at its core, a reactionary backlash. Conservative elites, threatened by changing social norms and an accelerating generational handover, are attempting to amplify their feelings of aggrievement into a national crisis.”[i] 

Let’s use the liberal UK A Newcomer Asks pamphlet as an example. More conservative USA adopts it and it catches on. Fundamentalists don’t like it one bit. This pamphlet that gets into the hands of over 200,000 per year says this: 

[i] https://www.huffingtonpost.ca/entry/cancel-culture-harpers-jk-rowling-scam_n_5f0887b4c5b67a80bc06c95e?ri18n=true&fbclid=IwAR0ThL8APZfgmKhY0jSao-nKxdnqLC4uKX7ZnTWsac4sZPHz0pAGYayNFLQ

What advice do you give new members? 

In our experience, the people who recover in A.A. are those who: 

  1. stay away from the first drink; 
  2. attend A.A. meetings regularly; 
  3. seek out the people in A.A. who have success-fully stayed sober for some time; 
  4. try to put into practice the A.A. program of recovery 

What do you think? For potential members or doctors/courts that might refer persons with substance use disorder our way, does this tell the AA story accurately? 

Well, if you’re a thumper, you already know that this hogwash does not “show other alcoholics precisely how we have recovered...”[vi] 

So, whatever conservative political will was required to tip the scales, the 2009 General Service Conference agreed that this newcomer killing watering down of AA would be the “national crisis” Huffington Post writes about and therefore, modified for USA/Canada users to also say: 

  1. obtain and study the Big Book, Alcoholics Anonymous. 

Somehow, “4) try to put into practice the A.A. program of recovery” was not real AA for real alcoholics. The British GSO—more secular, less orthodox—continues to provide groups and members pamphlets with the original four advice points, confident that their message is clear and accurate as is. 

“Another sure sign of a moral panic is the elevation of nonevents into national catastrophes. Again and again, the decriers of ‘cancel culture’ intimate that if left unchecked, the left’s increasing intolerance for dissent will result in profound consequences (Huffington Post).” 

In AA, it goes both ways. Deeply secular AA’s aren’t satisfied that they can run their meeting any way they choose, read anything they like—conference approved or otherwise—but AA’s future is endangered if that Primary Purpose meeting down the road continues to force-feed newcomers a Big Book and encourage them to dismiss any other literature as psychological gobbilty goop. Huff Post puts it this way: 

“And yet, most actual examples of ‘cancel culture’ turn out to have cartoonishly low stakes.” 

I mean really, why concern ourselves with what the other AA meeting is doing, saying or reading? 

This us vs. them tribal warfare—that in fairness only exists by the loudest extremes of AAs camps and may not reflect the views of the majority of more moderate AA—sounds destructive, unproductive. 

Fundamentalists need a foe to push away from. I don’t know why deeply religious AA can’t happily tell their story without finger pointing at demons such as contemporary treatment center language and the idea that meeting makers make it. For progressives, the scapegoat is the mean-spirited thumpers and their superstitious AA orthodoxy which is turning away today’s newcomer. Stop them; they’re the cause of AA membership decline! Maybe, no one gets to play Big Book hero without a sinister foil. And maybe progressive AA saviors have no fuel to light their fire if not for the damage being done by the thumping and mucking. 

Nir and Far (2017) published an article about why anger is a helpful, motivating force. 

“Besides making us feel more powerful, scapegoating can harness our instincts to resist threats to our freedom and autonomy, a phenomenon that psychologists call ‘reactance.’ ... Scapegoating uses the power of reactance toward productive ends. If we feel that someone or something is conspiring against us, we’re more likely to work harder to prove them wrong.”[vii]  

Adore or abhor the book Alcoholics Anonymous, either will get you sober if you can channel your energy into motivation. The buzz from proving those people wrong can be a great defense against cravings. 

The author known as Bobby Beach wrote a priceless article lampooning deeply religious Big Book thumpers, entitled, The shocking reality is that freaken Big Book fundamentalists hate freaken everything!!! 

“Big Book thumpers, as they call themselves really, really hate treatment centers, and are quick to attribute every non-BB slogan to these profiteers, whose main occupation over the past four or five decades has been to dilute the purity of AA’s message.”[viii] 

Bob goes on down the list of fundies perceived threats to the naïve newcomers including secular AA, court-ordered meeting attendance, and 21st century medical and psychological wellness advocates. Even an emotional sober thumper should appreciate the humor in Bobby Beach’s article. If not, review Rule 62 with your sponsor. I know, I know, Rule 62 is not in the first 164 pages; that’s from that watered-down Twelve Steps and Twelve Traditions mumbo jumbo. Earlier this century, Sandy Beach wrote the minority opinion, The White Paper on Non-believers but it just isn’t nearly as funny so forget about that for now. 

So about watered-down AA; there comes a time to caution people on a recovery journey about short-cuts or minimization. “Halfway measures are of no avail,” was borrowed, by Bill Wilson, from Richard Peabody’s 1931 The Common Sense of Drinking and plunked into the Big Book. Discomfort can’t be avoided in changing behaviors. That’s still true even though it’s a 1930s idea. 

Maybe there is a cost to the morale of AA as a whole with divergent camps bad-mouthing the meeting down the street. But transcending our human biases isn’t one of the promises. Still, couldn’t both judgy anti-thumper liberals and judgy anti-modernization traditionalists each stick to our outcome rates in our meetings and not prop ourselves up by putting other groups down? None of us are getting everyone sober, all of the time. 

One final bit of good news from this year’s General Service Conference comes from the A.A. Grapevine report. Disparaged by some in each of the traditionalist and progressive camps, One Big Tent: Atheist and agnostic AA members share their experience, strength and hope was the most pre-ordered Grapevine booklet of all time; so the moderate majority liked it and bought it. This last year, One Big Tent has been translated. Now available: Bajo El Mismo Techo, Emsta colección de experiencias personales escritas por alcohólicos ateos y agnósticos que han encontrado en Alcohólicos Anónimos una solución común. 

Let’s review the math: A more secular influence from Europe, Australia, Canada, South Africa, and other English-speaking AA strongholds has the effect of making AA more believer/nonbeliever balanced. 

Yet, AA population growth only happens in our deeply Christian old-country, America (+17%). Deeply secular AA regions like Canada (-12%) and Internationals (-29%) are bleeding membership where tolerance of atheists and agnostics is culturally normal. 

In previous blogs/podcasts we have reported that everywhere in AA, secular AA meetings are on the rise. Increasing from under 50 at the turn of the century, to over 500 pre-pandemic 2020, our sense is that agnostic/atheist AA continues to grow in a zoom environment with more and more meetings coming online. 

Our future, it seems is still unwritten.

So concludes another episode of “this year in AA.” 

At time-of-writing, the pandemic continues, zoom makes going to meetings in other countries the same one-click option as my regular meeting down the street. I am keeping my mind open. Online mutual aid is not a better new world for everyone. 

Some members need to get out of their house or other living arrangement to get the most out of an AA meeting. Others don’t find that high-touch translates to high-tech. For some, our workday is all screen time, so sitting at our computer for another meeting? Oh please, no—not more screen time. Calling ‘Bull-shit,’ is it too much screen time or too much bum time? We can move around and zoom in ways that get us the recovery we need, the change of scenery we want, without disturbing everyone else in the meeting. Mind you, some would say, "It's a pandemic; suck it up. After work, go for a walk and log onto your zoom meeting by phone. Think outside the laptop-box." Other suggestions are to find a private place and a couple of backups for your meetings if you want to be away from the house. Be creative. 

Others are falling in-like with AA all over again, finding secular AA for the first time, reconnecting with AA from far away treatment center alumni groups or hometown first meetings from long ago. 

Our Toronto Beyond Belief Agnostics & Freethinkers group—when we met in a U of T classroom was full of Torontonians. Yes, we’re a city of the world and we have always had many visitors from other meetings and other places. But now, home-team members are the minority in a growing meeting. 

We have people who speak AA in their native English, different that Canadian, eh. We have people candidly thank God and the members of AA in our agnostic meeting, unapologetically. We have atheist Big Book-apologists who espouse on how much good if found among the supernatural talk; “Don’t throw the baby out with the bathwater.” Others would not use AA literature for kindling for their barbeque. 

We are all types. And now, we are from all places, a fellowship joined by our common suffering and trying to navigate the divide of a common language and many accents and dialects. 

Thanks for spending some time with us Rebellion Dogs. What is your experience with zoom meetings? Does our literature meet your needs or boil your blood? What are your feelings about this year’s General Service Conference and where should we focus our efforts in discussing AA’s collective business “in changing times?” 

As always, we don’t always get our way, but here, you can always have your say—please comment. 

Please be safe and be good to each other. 

See you online.   

Okay, so can I have a PDF (CLICK CLICK) of this BLOG?

[i] Schaberg, William Writing The Big Book: The Creation of AA, Central Recovery Press, Las Vegas, 2019 p. 602 

[ii] Sigal Samuel, The Atlantic https://www.theatlantic.com/international/archive/2018/05/american-atheists-religious-european-christians/560936/ 

[iii] https://www.pewforum.org/2018/04/25/when-americans-say-they-believe-in-god-what-do-they-mean/

[iv] https://www.pewresearch.org/global/2020/07/20/the-global-god-divide/ 

[v] https://www.aa.org/pages/en_US/box-4-5-9-news-and-notes-from-gso 

[vi] https://www.huffingtonpost.ca/entry/cancel-culture-harpers-jk-rowling-scam_n_5f0887b4c5b67a80bc06c95e?ri18n=true&fbclid=IwAR0ThL8APZfgmKhY0jSao-nKxdnqLC4uKX7ZnTWsac4sZPHz0pAGYayNFLQ 

[vii] Forward to the First Edition, Alcoholics Anonymous, p. xiii 

[viii] https://www.nirandfar.com/goals-enemy/ 

[viii] https://aaagnostica.org/2019/02/24/freaken-big-book-fundamentalists-hate-freaken-everything/

Knowing AA History: Spotlighting Barry L  

Many people had a hand in changing the course of Alcoholics Anonymous, and consequently, the entire peer-to-peer, mutual aid world. Some of these stories are lost or buried--not hidden from us, just so deep in archives that no one who's come across them had a grasp on their significance to you and me nor did they feel compelled to record and broadcast this revelation. Today we know more about Hank P thanks the the big reveal in Writing the Big Book: The Creation of A.A. by William Schaberg. We now know so much about Hank's role in shaping AA now because of Schaberg's eleven years of archival research: 

“Another embarrassing story that raised serious problems for the Fellowship was the central role played by Hank Parkhurst—Bill Wilson’s right-hand man from 1938 to 1939—because Parkurst drank shortly after the book Alcoholics Anonymous was published. Whenever possible, mention of Hank and his contributions to the program were judiciously dropped from the stories told about those early years. ...It is possible to imagine the creation and growth of Alcoholics Anonymous into the organization that we know today without the help of Dr. Bob Smith, but it is impossible to do so if the many substantive contributions made by Hank Parkhurst are eliminated from the picture.”

Writing the Big Book fact-checks AA mythology and makes it clear to many of us who were told or read otherwise: No Hank, no book! Schaberg is not satisfied with all that he uncovered and he challenges hobby-historians and academics alike, Hank's autobiography must be written for the record. It didn't fall into the specific mandate of Schaberg's research but what he learned, he hopes someone else will take, research further and run with.

Learning what really happened is important. Learning  informs and also help us let go of flawed recollections from memories that have been put to print as fact. Some memories are accurate of course, but, as is the nature of human memory, inaccuracies along the way are the rule, not the exception. 

So enough about history in general; let's spend some time a specific key player in our AA history, Bary L. Like Hank Parkhurst, Barry L's footprint is one we have all seen but do know, who's imprint we're looking at?

If you think you're different; if you're a member of a special purpose 12-Step subculture, your life has been touched by the handy work of this AA member. Barry L sobered up in 1945; that is year ten on the AA calendar - if AA was recording our history yet - and six years after the Big Book was published. In the course of his life in sobriety, Barry was a staff writer for AA, recording and reporting many of the early General Service Conference reports, working for A.A. Grapevine, editing nearly 40-years of AA collective experience in Living Sober (1973) and what the General Service Office hoped would be the black-sheep in AA pamphlet to end all black sheep pamphlets, Do You Think You're Different?

Remember the pre-Traditions tale of of an African American, cross-dressing, heroin addicted, paroled convict and alcoholic walking into our 1945 AA New York clubhouse? Guess who was at the front desk to meet this new AA member? Barry L.

Remember hearing about the controversy in the 1970s about listing Gay & Lesbian (LGBTQ+) meetings where AA delegates squared off in their redneck and liberal corners? Guess who was recording the discussion and outcome of these heated meetings? Barry L.

Were you moved by stories of AA's who felt different - even in AA: African American, Native American, atheist, member of the clergy, high bottom, low bottom, Jewish, lesbian, gay, old, young, agnostic? These were the stories of pamphlet P-13 Do You Think You're Different? compiled and edited by Barry L.

Remember the recent controversy about the original manuscript of the book Alcoholics Anonymous being auctioned off at Southeby's Auction and AA's GSO petitioning the court to stop the transfer of AA's original property until a judge could determine if it was the rightful property of Alcoholics Anonymous? This will be talked about in this recording we're going to listen to...

In 1978 Lois gifted the manuscript to Barry, who signed a notarized letter in 1979, noting his intention to return the manuscript to A.A. World Services, upon his death. Through an "AA ought never be organized" chain of events, by Bary's death in 1985, A.A. World Services forgot about this arrangement. During the spirit of rotation at GSO, this material fact to those in the know was not etched in the memories of those then in charge at the time of Barry L's death. The unknown whereabouts of the manuscript remained a mystery until an auction in 2004 saw the manuscript sold for $1.5 million. It was auctioned again in 2007 and when it was on the auction block again a couple of years ago, AA World Services rediscovered Barry Leach’s notarized letter. In the end, AA's groups conscience was that it was not becoming of AA to own anything of significant value or engage in anything so controversial. Hence, AA made reparations for the delay we caused and it was, once again sold for $2.4 million.

Named after the book, Living Sober became the name of the oldest and longest running LGBTQ+ AA (and AlAnon) conference in the world. Once exclusively in San Francisco, now you can zoom to Living Sober at noon (PST) Monday to Friday every day.

Barry was a trusted friend to Bill Wilson and his widow, Lois. Barry and Lois both gave their last address to the AA World Convention in 1985. Living Sober is reviewed by A Freethinker in Alcoholics Anonymous, author John L who wrote for AA Beyond Belief, " My current Boston home group has the up-front name, “Atheists and Agnostics.” At each meeting, we start off by reading and discussing a chapter from Living Sober, which tells us how to get sober, stay sober, and lead a good life in sobriety. ...The Living Sober approach is neither for nor against religion, but independent from it. ... Those of you who attend regular AA groups should make sure that the literature table always includes copies of Living Sober.  This is the book to recommend to newcomers and to those we sponsor."

These are samples of Barry-moments that altered AA's course, many would say, for the better. Rebellion Dogs is pleased to share with you the last talk Barry L ever gave. It was the 50th anniversary of Alcoholics Anonymous - Montreal 1985. He was talking at the Gay and Lesbian panel about Tradition Three: The only requirement for A.A. membership is a desire to stop drinking. 

Barry passed away 3 weeks after this talk.

Read about Living Sober the book, written by John L, @ AAbeyondbelief.com

Notes on Barry's 1985 AA 50th Anniversary talk HERE

AA Grapevine remembers Montreal 1985

 

February 2020 Aftermath: Bill W's Sober Second Thought  

READ as a PDF (CLICK)

Once every year or so, we look at the state of atheists/agnostics (and/or other underrepresented populations) in AA and the broader recovery community. I just read something—something I missed in a first go-around of Writing the Big Book—that means today’s the day for this review. I’m also reading Pathways to Recovery and Desistance: the role of the social contagion of hope (2019). 

Each AA member is an individual, but today, we look at early AA members as being from two persuasions: 

  • Our more “religiously inclined” members (supernatural worldview) and, 
  • “those agnostically inclined” members (secular worldview). 

We look at recently unveiled hints as to what was meant in “Appendix II” of AA’s Big Book and to whom was it intended. We’re also going to look at how some members use AA-speak to describe their story, borrowing from Alcoholics Anonymous language; other members talk about addiction and AA recovery in plain or contemporary language. Hopefully, we tie these ideas together in a look to how the future of recovery (and AA’s place in it) will adapt to accommodate a changing demographic of people with alcohol (and other substance) use disorders.   

October 2019, I released a podcast interview with author Bill Schaberg, Rebellion Dogs Radio Episode 49, about his (then) soon-to-be-released, Writing the Big Book: The Creation of AA. November 15th, TheFix.com posted a Rebellion Dogs interview called, “Facts and Fables: William Schaberg Explores the True Origins of AA.” (Click on the links to hear/read more.) 

I saw Professor David Best lecture at Recovery Capital Conference of Canada (New Westminster, BC) and he was commenting on a body of evidence, longitudinal studies he has participated in around success factors to persons with substance use disorder re-integrating into life with a new, sober identity. I’m going to take a moment to talk about a five-part framework that Best has found in recovery successes. CHIME (Leamy et al, 2011) is an acronym for Connection, Hope, Identity, Meaning and Empowerment[1]. 

Connection includes a supportive mutual-aid network, recovering family, work and social relationships, access to medical, financial, health and wellbeing supports. 

Hope is in the subtitle: The role of the social contagion of hope, suggesting that hope is transmitted. Substance and process addicts have to have hope that recovery is possible, hope-inspiring relationships, aspirations and motivation. 

Identity is a factor in admitting to ourselves we have a problem—that comes with a new label, our identity as someone in recovery can be a source of pride and we need to feel safety in our identity being supported within a larger community. 

Meaning is the antidote to many barriers of sustained recovery: boredom, shame, anxiety and low self-esteem. Reintegrating into a social framework where we feel mastery and purpose and/or creating a new recovery community in which we feel valued is a key to recovery capital. 

Empowerment means personal responsibility and the support of community to overcome obstacles and identify our strengths and what we can control in life. 

All five characteristics (CHIME) can be reinforced in peer-to-peer groups. The book, Alcoholics Anonymous, for better or worse, addresses all five. AA groups do as well. Identity—which will be a focal point of today’s essay—starts with first accepting and, later, hopefully embracing that I (and we) are alcoholics. This brings us together. But still, we are individuals and how much of culture, social status, gender-identity, age and worldview tribalize an otherwise one big tent of a recovery community. Identity binds persons with substance use disorder and it can also separate us into sub-cultures under a bigger tent. Some of us will go build another tent, somewhere else, focusing on the differences and fining a surrounding supporting our integrity. Home groups in mutual aid all have their own identity, style, rituals and purpose that both connects them to a whole and acknowledges unique characteristics as well. 

We will talk about loyalty and integrity, not a one or the other proposition, a one AND the other balancing act in healthy identity. Some secular AAs identify their legitimate place in AA in the Big Book and others have to reject the theistic bias of the book to balance the integrity of their worldview and the loyalty to their AA tribe. 

Fun fact: I actually just found this last chapter Thirty-one of Writing the Big Book, “Aftermath.” 

I had read a PDF before the book was published and somehow, I went right from Chapter Thirty, “Publication Day” to the appendices  and end notes. How did I miss it? I don’t know; the publisher’s page[2] reports the timeline of the book’s scope, “from October of 1937, when a book was first proposed, to April of 1939 when Alcoholics Anonymous was published.” 

Imagine my surprise; it was like finding a whole new book when flipping through my hardcopy version, just recently. It felt like unburying a lost chapter. 

Chapter Thirty-one just happened to be on a timeline and subject matter that I have agonized over: the motivation and rationalization for, and changes made in the second printing of the Big Book and especially, the insertion which we now know as “Spiritual Experience.”   

As we learned from our interview with William Schaberg, the folktales of the creation of Alcoholics Anonymous included some widely held myths about how the book came to be and about life during AA’s early “flying blind” years. I call the two years between first and second printing, which informed “Spiritual Experience,” as Bill W’s “sober-second thought” years. 

The addition of an Appendix signifies a perception change, something that Bill W felt needed to be said. Could this be an awakening—not a white light version this time like his Towns Hospital spell, but—“the educational variety” because [it developed] slowly over a period of time (AA, p 567).” In 1939 (and the three years leading up to the first edition, Bill had the collective experience of dozens of sober AAs to borrow from. Now it was 1941 when AA successes numbered 2,000. This larger, more diverse sample size would be eye-opening. The tone of Appendix II is so different from anything in the first 164 pages that I wondered if Bill W wrote what we call today, “Spiritual Experience.” I was assured by AA historians, and know it to be true today, that Bill did write it. 

As we learned in Rebellion Dogs Radio #49, through the eleven years of primary document research, Bill Schaberg reports that Hank P’s,  and atheists’ efforts to persuade Bill to offer a psychological, behavioral salvation for real alcoholics, in tandem with the “touched by the hand of God” narrative that Bill W so vividly describes based on his experience and testimony of others. 

Here’s an aside from one armchair-quarterback, me: First, it’s part of the historical record that Bill W suffered from depression. Did our founder have a manic side, too? Bipolar wasn’t a thing—as far as diagnosis—back in the day; could it be that Bill’s writing spurts were during manic swings? Of our 164 pages of  Big Book, I hear an undercurrent of the righteousness of the recently converted in the narrative. I’m not calling uncle Bill out on anything I haven’t done myself. Some of the poetic language could be construed as hyperbole: “you will surely meet some of us as you trudge the Road of Happy Destiny (BB p. 164);” all in caps, poetic yes, but is it overselling? 

To any of you creative people out there who struggle with mood swings, are inspirations that find you burning the midnight oil, happening when your higher mood and energy is engaged? I don’t mean to play doctor; my mental health doesn’t put me in any position to throw stones—I do relate, is all I’m saying. Maybe I’m projecting, but it’s something to think about. 

Secondly, I think the Big Book would read better—and be less contentious—with less use of adjectives. Let’s look at some adjective-dependency examples: 

  • rigorous honesty 
  • entirely ready 
  • complete abandon 

Ask a grade-school student about honesty—the only honesty is rigorous. And “ready,” isn’t it like pregnancy; either you are ready, or you aren’t? Why make an addict agonize about if we are honest or ready enough? Take my own AA recovery as an anecdotal case. My case is prove-positive that some honesty, some open-mindedness and some willingness will do—no rigorousness, entirety or completeness needed to muddle through. 

So, I think “having had a spiritual experience, as a result of these Steps” is a case of adjective-dependency (yes, I made up this compound word); “spiritual experience” sounds grandiose. 

What would be so lacking in “Step Twelve: Having an experience as a result of these Steps we tried to carry this message to alcoholics and to practice these principles in all of our affairs”? 

I think it’s still a dramatic statement without an adjective. And, if you are spiritual, do you/should we go around boasting about it? 

A history of irreligious AA - the white-light-lite group: 

For the 1941 atheists and agnostic, who this new appendix may have been reaching out to—” it is true that our first printing gave many readers the impression that these personality changes, or religious experiences, must be in the nature of sudden and spectacular upheavals”—referring to alienating statements like, “God could and would if He were sought,” “having had a spiritual awakening as the result of these steps,” or the glorious “But there is one who has all power; that One is God. May you find Him now.”  

The caps alone—today’s millennial might tell Bill, “Dude, don’t yell.” 

 Could it be that this exclusive—not inclusive language was what Bill was making amends for?  Or maybe he was compelled to share his more expanded, more enlightened insights. 

As many of us in early recovery might be, Bill was enchanted with his own transformation; a spiritual experience, he called it, that worked where so many other attempts to overcome drinking had failed. With two more years of his own sobriety and 2,000 sober samples instead of a few dozen, like any dynamic, perceptive person, he would know more and he would have expanded his view of the varieties of AA transformations.

So, it was 1941 and Bill knew more sober atheists, agnostics. If AA was similar to the USA average of  5%[3], at the time, that’s 100 sober unbelievers. Not too shabby of a sample size. Of course, we had more believers, too. Let’s call these one hundred secular AA members, the “white-light-lite group.” 

“This was the great contribution of our atheists and agnostics. They had widened our gateway so that all who suffer may pass through, regardless of their belief or lack of belief.” Bill W, AA Comes of Age, p. 167                     

A common misapprehension is that it was always more religious in the past. These cultural cycles wax and wane. An article points out that the 40’s were about as religious as 2013, the publication date of this article: 

“Earlier generations were always more religious than we are, right? Not always. Religiosity can rise and fall just like other things do over time. In fact, America of the 1940s was about as religious as America today[2013]. 

Coming out of World War II, America was not very religious. … The economy improved. The baby boom ensued. And religion grew. 

The 1950s were also a time when America began to see itself as a Christian nation in a cold war with atheistic communism. President Eisenhower joined a church after being elected, becoming the first president to be baptized while in office. In 1954, the phrase ‘under God’ was added to the pledge of allegiance to signify the religious stance of the country.”[4] 

Check out any Big Book and your attention will be drawn to a footnote reference to “Appendix II, Spiritual Experience” on pages 25, 27 and 47, directing you to pp 567-568. 

This appendix has a story to tell; the story takes us back to the year, 1941: time for a second printing of the Big Book. The first few thousand copies were finally running out. The book wasn’t “selling like hotcakes” until after the Jack Alexander, March 1, 1941 article in The Saturday Night Post[5]. 

More revelations from William Schaberg’s Writing the Big Book: The Creation of AA come beyond page 600. Simply called “Appendix” in the second printing (The Twelve Traditions now occupy Appendix I and “Spiritual Experience is bumped to II). Here’s what Writing the Big Book reports: “in the back of the book, which at this point lacked a formal title ('Spiritual Experience') that was added to the first printing of the second edition in 1955.” 

Today’s Appendix II says, “... Yet it is true that our first printing gave many readers the impression that these personality changes, or religious experiences,  must be in the form of sudden and spectacular upheavals. Happily for everyone, this conclusion is erroneous...” Schaberg reports, “Bill’s original edits to the piece have been preserved and they provide some interesting insights into his March 1941 thinking on the issue.” This is what was originally penned by Bill W:   

“Happily, for those agnostically inclined, this conclusion is erroneous.” 

The, then-unnamed appendix goes on to describe a secular transformation or recovery from alcoholism. 

 “Most (not some) of our experience” is an educational process that takes time, less often, it’s a sudden flash of light and/or insight. Bill talks of a “an unsuspected inner resource” as agency for recovery. Interesting. I don’t know what Bill’s personal evolution was, but his tone changed. This earthly, practical way to look at learning sobriety is/was clearly set apart in explanation, if not experience, with another eye-opener; here’s more of what was originally written in Writing the Big Book

“Our more religiously inclined members call it ‘God-consciousness’” 

This is instead of today’s, “Our more religious members…” 

The first draft’s wording gave “those agnostically inclined” and “our religiously inclined” members in recovery from alcoholism separate identities but celebrate equality:  “educational variety” or “religious experience.” Is that Bill’s intent, I wonder? 

I understand why this sober second thought would be of interest to all members and prospective members: “Happily for everyone, this conclusion is erroneous.” It speaks to both camps. There’s no need for our non-theistic members to fear that the power of example, inner resource and/or Group of Drunks relied upon for sustained recovery is second rate in any way—full stop! This is of course a departure from the tone of the first printing. Also, the message ought to be heard by our theists that there is no need to insist to the not-God squad that a supernatural higher power will eventually have to take the place of their earthly leaning post. 

But is this the message and is it clearly conveyed to “everyone”? 

  1. Please dismiss our warnings that only a personal, anthropomorphic higher power can get a real alcoholic sober 
  2. Learning is a suitable replacement for praying when it comes to staying sober 

Every path is an AA path—secular or spiritual. Like anything, some get it; some don’t. 

As a thought experiment let’s imagine the first draft survived and the message from AA’s author was directed specifically to the secular/agnostically inclined; would/could this have made AA as comfortable for atheists and the non-Judeo/Christian adherents as for practicing or lapsed Christians? 

“Thankfully for those agnostically inclined” may or may not have solved the worldview-gap that exists in today’s AA. For the nonbeliever who’s been on the receiving end of a condescending, “Keep an open mind” or a “Keep coming back; you’ll get it, eventually,” these microaggressions suggest “Appendix II,” didn’t serve the author’s intended purpose. 

Bob K, in his analysis of Appendix II, “Short of a Game Changer”[6] felt that the concession to nonbelievers didn’t go far enough. In his own “Life’s a (Bobby) Beach” way of seeing things, we read: 

“that such a change could hardly have been brought about by himself alone” is easily answered by the secularist – ‘Yes, by myself I am without power, but together we are strong.’ The caveman needs no God to conquer the saber-toothed tiger, but he does need other cavemen.” 

This 2012 commentary got an “Amen” from the choir but not so much from the rest of the spiritual-not religious congregants: 

“the Appendix does not fall into the category of a game changer. ... The “Spiritual Experience” ... doesn’t change the game, but it is nice to at least be in the game, even if barely showing on the scoreboard.”   

Bobby, would it have been more satisfying to you, if the original scrip survived,  “Happily, for the agnostically inclined, this conclusion is erroneous”? 

Well, it’s got me thinking anyway. 

While we nit-pic about Appendix II, any third or fourth edition Big Book hanging around the AA clubhouse, page 566 ends with: 

“There is a principle which is a bar against all information, which is proof against all arguments and

which cannot fail to keep a man in everlasting ignorance—that principle is contempt prior to investigation.” 

—Herbert Spencer 

It’s widely held today (and never disproven) that Herbert Spencer never said this. He certainly never wrote it anywhere that was published. 

This misattribution, wasn’t always in the Big Book

“the quote attributed to Herbert Spencer, which wasn’t added to ‘Spiritual Experience’ until the third printing of the second edition in 1959 (Writing the Big Book p 601).” 

For those of you in the “We should update the Big Book” camp, maybe removing the quote or disassociating it from Spencer would be a good test to how receptive The General Service Conference is to change. Why start with original text; can they comfortably change that which Bill Wilson previously changed? And I wonder if there are any records around to answer why the (mis)quote was added in the late 1950s. Remember that 1941 America was no more religious than 2013 America and it saw a spike in Christianity and secularphobia[7] through the Cold War years. Is the suggestion that contempt prior to investigation, the suggestion of open-mindedness a flip-flop return to the Chapter Four idea that non-theism is intellectual pride? Willingness and open-mindedness to other views can’t be strictly as suggestion for unbelievers is it? 

Understandably, if 1959 just isn’t cutting edge change enough for you, for readers who find the Big Book too religious, or patriarchal, homonormative or unscientific, no one needs to make peace with the Big Book or any book to get or stay sober. Put it away. Donate it to a Salvation Army. There are more contemporary books, or migrate from the book covers to YouTube videos, podcasts or other 21st century expressions of the addiction and recovery experience. The 12-Step approach, itself, is optional—in or out of AA. 

Secular Recovery Today: 

Both inside AA and beyond, the secular view of 12-Step recovery continues to be told. The AA story isn’t strictly something that happened in 1939; it’s an ongoing, everchanging story. 

For those who do want to be at one with your 12-Step community, without denying your values, set aside either/or thinking. How about loyalty AND integrity? In any relationship—family and me, work and me, AA and me—the balancing act is blending loyalty and integrity. I don’t have to piss away one to respect the other. We don’t have to speak in 12-Step-ese to be included. 

John S nailed it on Episode 145 of AA Beyond Belief podcast, speaking with Joe from New Jersey: 

“Over the last five years, I guess I’ve had to unlearn AA speak ... I’m 57 now, and I’ve been in AA since I was 25. And for 25 years, that was my life, and I knew the language and the lingo, and knowing the language and the lingo kind of got me by. And so, after that 25-year period when I realized I was an atheist, I had enough. I couldn’t even bear going to the meetings anymore. … So, we did start a secular meeting here in Kansas City and since that time, I have been unlearning the language and the lingo. [chuckle] 

So, like, ‘higher power’, that’s not the way I talk. … That’s not my language. I never would have, the first place I ever heard that was an AA, you know. … If people want to talk about that, that’s their deal. But I don’t use that language, I just use my regular everyday language. Other people help me.” 

 Boom; mic-drop. That’s it right there. Completely integral without hostility towards AA. John, previously was loyal to AA but set aside integrity in exchange for belonging, using AA-speak as cover. Now, he doesn’t tip-toe around AA with his words: Loyal to AA AND integral to his core-beliefs. We can be unabashedly atheist, feminist, millennial, and be good AA citizens. We need not fit our language into G.O. D. acronyms. 

How unorthodox can you go without being “kicked out of the pool?” Read John Lauritsen’s A Freethinker in Alcoholics Anonymous. He got sober while Bill W was still alive. Always candid about his atheism, John sees the Steps as being as religious as praying. So, he didn’t do Steps. He’s still sober today. What does he do that is AA? 

“Probably all sober alcoholics would agree that a requirement for sobriety is not picking up the first drink. Aside from that, alcoholics would give a variety of answers, for A.A. is an individual program. 

I would say that for me, A.A. consists of the realization that I am powerless over alcohol; that total abstinence is required on a 24-hour basis; that alcoholics can provide practical help and moral support for each other; that life is worth living and things can get better; that honesty is the basis for lasting sobriety; and so on. 

There is no evidence that religious belief is necessary for good sobriety. Thousands of alcoholics have stayed sober and helped others to sobriety without having the slightest belief in the supernatural. …” 

Intriguing? Read the rest of the book. It’s real life AA recovery. 

More contemporary 12-Step literature logically offers a more inclusive way to explain what happens in the transformation from addiction to wellness. Here’s an example from NA’s 2012 Living Clean

“We become increasingly aware of our choices, our motives, and our behavior. We come to know what we were thinking when we made a decision, and we recognize the difference between thinking through a decision and reacting or acting on impulse. Listening to our intuition means that we can be open to others without being naïve or foolhardy. We learn to trust our intuition and honor feelings (Living Clean p. 172).” 

The Victorian era was the setting for Bill W. and Dr. Bob’s formative years; no matter how much inclusivity or spirituality they muster, we would never hear them talking about “trusting our intuition and honor(ing) feelings.” It takes a 21st century book to speak in a contemporary language. 

Marijuana Anonymous literature was late-20th century; Life with Hope was first written in 1995 and guess what? They update it as needed. My 2012 version says: 

“Some of us believe in no deity; a Higher Power may be the strength gained from being part of, and caring for, a community of others. There is room in MA for all beliefs. We do not proselytize any particular view or religion. In MA, each of us discovers a spirit of humility and tolerance… The program of recovery works for people who do not believe in God and for people who do. It does not work for people who think they are God Living With Hope pp. 7-12).” 

More from Writing the Big Book: The Creation of AA: 

Have you heard the Big Book enthusiast’s refrain, “None of the original 164 pages have ever been changed—don’t fix it if it ain’t broke!” in automaton-like drone?    

First, they mean well; their ability to help the “still-suffering” is focused on a particular constituency, amiable to bowing to authority in search of sobriety. These enthusiasts are a big help to someone receptive to supernatural intervention. In most cases, they don’t force themselves on anyone. But if you face belligerence, here’s some ammunition—a few selections—some more substantial than others that deconstruct the idea that the sacred text has not been altered. Chapter Thirty-one of Writing the Big Book reports, “Edits to the text of the Big Book did not end with its publication. There were a number of major changes made during the sixteen printings of the first edition (1939-1955) and some less striking ones made to early printings of the second editions (1955-1974). Here’s a rebuttal notes to the “Big Book has never been altered” myth: 

1) The first printing was 179 pages, not today’s 164. 

2) Five times in the first printing we referred to ourselves as “ex-alcoholics.” We don’t anymore; I think that’s substantial. 

“There were five places in the text where the hyphenated word ‘ex-alcoholic’ had appeared and this was obviously a problem given the Fellowship’s growing insistence that ‘once an alcoholic, always an alcoholic.’ In the eleventh printing three of these phrases were changed to read ‘ex-problem drinker,’ one was changed to ‘understanding fellows’ and the final one became a ‘non-drinking doctor.’” 

3) “The changes made to the text for the second printing were among the most substantive ever made. Most important, the wording of the Twelfth Step was changed from ‘Having had a spiritual experience as the result of these steps…” to “Having had a spiritual awakening as the result of those steps…’ And at the end of this Step, an asterisk was added sending readers to the bottom of the page where they were directed to the newly added [Appendix] in the back of the book … the change of the word ‘these’ to ‘those’ became a touchstone for argument over the next several years. Saying the necessary ‘spiritual awakening’ was ‘the result of those steps’ rather than ‘these steps’ effectively contributed to one’s spiritual awakening.” 

So, if one did subscribe to the AA experience as being a “spiritual experience” and not simply a “sober experience,” the argument would be—on one side—the eleven steps give you enlightenment and then you pass it on, but Bill put so much emphasis on “nothing will so much insure immunity from drinking as intensive work with other alcoholics. It works when other activities fail (Alcoholics Anonymous p. 89).” Because Bill’s position is that working with drunks helps keep you sober—with or without seeing any burning bush, first—anyone who admitted to alcohol dependency could work with other drunks and help themselves, also. 

 There were Big Book changes that seemingly—not actually—are set in stone. Other changes had a little back and forth in the first 25 years or so. 

4) “The word ‘those’ continued to be used in the final fifteen printings of the first edition and also in the first printing of the second edition but it was changed back to the original ‘these’ in the second printing of the second edition (1957).” 

Now this is a nit-picky, personal pet peeve  note, a bee in my bonnet that didn’t get any ink… In all these changes, why is this error still standing: page one of the book, “Bill’s Story,” still misspells Plattsburgh as “Plattsburg.” Didn’t anyone who was combing through the Big Book have a map!??! 

There are plenty more changes if you’re into minutia—or more than I am, anyway—especially, if you read Bill Schaberg’s Chapter Thirty-one, “Aftermath.” 

If you’re still reading Writing the Big Book, don’t skip the Appendices or End Notes; they’re chalked full of good stuff. Of course, don’t do what I did and miss a chapter, either. Oh well. And the new-found chapter (for me) ends with: 

“’… one thing I feel vitally important is to get the story of how the book was actually written. We get some many distorted stories on the [West] Coast. People talk about the one hundred men that wrote the book. Actually, there weren’t a hundred, as Bill will bear me out, but he said one hundred to make it sound good as though it really was going to work. The people talk as though there were one hundred men, that all went saintly and were talking straight up to heaven and God just guided Bill’s hand—that Bill just sat there and let the words come through. Actually, it wasn’t anything like that at all.’ 

Dorothy Snyder (Interviewed by Bill Wilson August 20, 1954) 

No… it wasn’t anything like that at all ….” 

We need inner resources, self-will—demonized by some—is an inner resource. Also, we need help; what are our external resources? “Recovery Capital is the breadth and depth of internal and external resources, that can be drawn upon to initiate and sustain recovery from severe alcohol and other drug problems.”[8] 

AA sobriety is a pathless land. Many repeat the mantra about the book as the design for living and these Steps “precisely as written.” Despite seeming influences to conform, we can be empowered in 12-Step recovery. John S’s story is a good example; despite his willingness to go along that satisfied a need for approval, he reflected, made a new boundary and he owned it; others respected it. How many members owe their sobriety to the book? On the other side of the equation, how many members ignore the book completely? How many started it and found another book about addiction and recovery that they found more relatable? I don’t know. I’m happy for everyone’s sobriety. 

 Sure, the thumpers see the Big Book as the way all real alcoholics got sober. I know too many who never read the book and are shining examples of AA sobriety and we can’t unlearn what we see.  Others read Alcoholics Anonymous years after finding contented sobriety in AA. 

If we lean towards echo-chambers and limit the types of groups we attend, our views will naturally narrow about what is and what should never be. One thing is for sure is that demographics shift and consequently, the attractiveness of cultural touchstones of the past become less compelling. 

Pew Research, at the end of last year, compared America to a decade before: 

 “the share of ‘nones’ – religiously unaffiliated adults who describe their religion as atheist, agnostic or “nothing in particular” – has reached 26%, up from 17% a decade ago and Nearly 14% of people living in the U.S. in 2017 were born in another country, extending a steady increase over the past few decades.”[9] 

Working the 12-Steps exactly as written is “a” way, not “the” way. As Writing the Big Book points out, whatever we believe about the 12-Steps “exactly as described in the book, Alcoholics Anonymous,” we’re learning that not everything we read and heard is/was true. Of course, developing a more critical view of things is  not an AA-thing; we wrestle with new mysteries as we see further into the universe or deeper into sub-atomic particles. We adapt—or we ought to. 

Thanks has to be extended again to William Schaberg for his tireless discipline to bring Writing the Big Book to fruition. And, today’s final thought aptly goes to Bill White and Ernie Kurtz as the looked at AAagnostica’s third anniversary with their usual context and vision in 2014. 

“There have been efforts by some within A.A. to Christianize A.A. history and practice, and there have been simultaneous efforts to forge more tolerant space for agnostics and atheists within A.A.  Each trend has been sometimes castigated by alarmists as a sign of the corruption and impending downfall of A.A. 

From the perspective of its history, we view such diversification within A.A. as an inevitable process of adaptation to the increasingly diverse religious and cultural contexts inherent in the fellowship’s worldwide growth.  It also reflects adjustment to the realities of religious diversification and secularization in the United States.  The future growth and vibrancy of A.A. may well hinge on these adaptive capacities.  It remains to be seen whether such developments will nurture and celebrate the growing diversity within A.A., or whether A.A. boundaries will be reactively tightened, likely triggering group schisms, member attrition, and flight to existing or new secular and religious alternatives.”[10] 

The adventure continues…

READ as a PDF (CLICK) 

listen to William Schaberg interview (Rebellion Dogs Radio)

[1] Best, David, Pathways to Recovery and Desistance: The role of the social contagion of hope, Bristol UK: Policy Press, 2019, p.110 

[2] http://www.writingthebigbook.com/ 

[3] 1948 USA census data show 91% Protestant or Catholic, 4% Jewish, O% other religion and 5% none or unreported.  https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/History_of_religion_in_the_United_States 

[4] https://religionnews.com/2014/12/11/1940s-america-wasnt-religious-think-rise-fall-american-religion/ 

[5] https://www.aa.org/assets/en_US/p-12_theJackAlexArticle.pdf 

[6] https://aaagnostica.org/2012/10/21/short-of-a-game-changer-appendix-ii/ 

[7] Dr. Phil Zuckerman coined the anit-atheist term, ‘secularphobia” https://www.psychologytoday.com/ca/blog/the-secular-life/201406/why-americans-hate-atheists 

[8] Granfield and Cloud, 1999; Cloud and Granfield, 2004 

[9] https://www.pewresearch.org/fact-tank/2019/12/13/19-striking-findings-from-2019/ 

[10] http://www.williamwhitepapers.com/blog/2014/08/aaagnostica-and-the-varieties-of-aa-experience-ernie-kurtz-and-william-white.html

A Freethinker in Alcoholics Anonymous link

Recovery, Wellness, Lunchtime and Eco-Stewardship 

View or read this blog in a PDF here.

Do you suffer from something called, eco-anxiety? 

Senior Editor at The Atlantic, James Hamblin defines this Century-21 contagion as the dread and helplessness that come with watching the impact of climate change. 

“He has tasted good and evil in your bedrooms and your bars and he’s traded in tomorrow for today,” to borrow from Kris Kristofferson[i]. Ecology, economy, consumption, addiction: these environmental systems within which that we interact, make us—as the environment’s stewards—look more like the monkeys being put in charge of the zoo (and I suspect this is unfair to monkeys). How do you feel when you hear about our pollution causing catastrophic climate change, the less fortunate starving in the countries that produce the goods and food that we consume? Is your reaction worry, guilt, anger, despondency or a call to action? 

In his 2017 book, Recovery, Russell Brand shared his views regarding our human consumption tendencies: 

 “I believe we live in an age of addiction where addictive thinking has become almost totally immersive. It is a mode of our culture. Consumerism is stimulus and responses as a design for life. The very idea that you can somehow make your life alright by attaining primitive material goals … is quite wrong. Addiction is when natural biological imperatives, like the need for food, sex, relaxation or status, becomes prioritized to the point of destructiveness.”[ii] 

On a more positive note, recovery capital is a measure of our wellness—it’s not strictly “abstinence from a stated substance/behavior”; it’s more global than how many days away we are from our sobriety date. Optimal recovery isn’t merely restoring ourselves to some previous status; for me, certainly for many, recovery is better than any time in our past. Dr. Ray Baker and Last Door’s Jessica Cooksey of Last Door Recovery Society defined “recovery capital”, on tour for the September 2019 cross-Canada Recovery Capital Conference, and it includes four elements: 

  1. Cessation of addictive behavior 
  2. Improved global health 
  3. Improved level of function 
  4. Increased prosocial behavior 

This four-part measurement isn’t a rigid framework that demands consensus from everyone—each of us may all have a unique definition of our recovery—but it’s the framework to which researchers measure efficacy and/or addiction recovery outcomes. 

In our recovery capital, we live better, get better and interact better in the world. The Recovery Capital Conference drew attention to recent studies of people living in recovery, conducted in the last few years around the world. Results reveal that not only are people in recovery more charitable and more engaged in cooperative citizenry compared to our previous lives in addiction; we are also more altruistic that the general population. Nothing assuages our guilt or quiets our self-absorbed rumination than empathy for another. Living in Recovery studies show that—maybe as part of our recovery regimen—we are civically engaged and generous with time, talents and our discretionary income. 

This August, The Atlantic[iii] presented some simple facts to counter the helplessness of “What can I do about climate change?” 

In the article, “If Everyone Ate Beans Instead of Beef: With one dietary change, the U.S. Could almost meet greenhouse-gas emission goals,” James Hamblin demonstrates that it doesn’t take all-or-nothing change to make a difference. 

Stop eating beef. 

This isn’t a vegan rant; he invites us to keep eating our bacon and chicken wings. Just eat plant-based meat replacements instead of burgers and steak. This one half-measure sacrifice you and I could make, can change the world. 

Even in recovery, addicts like me still have a bag of tricks for avoiding-techniques that don’t require a new sobriety date; these tricks include distraction, obsession, compulsion and magical thinking.  Still, we can’t un-ring a bell and it’s hard to unlearn hard truths or even inconvenient truths. 

The Atlantic connects greenhouse gases and our breakfast, lunch and dinner choices. You can dismiss this, take on the challenge for 90-days or go all the way with food choices that’s best for the environment. Some of our recovery community abstain from participation in the whole supply and demand of animal protein (dairy, fish, chickens, pigs, sheep). No more honey or leather, either for all-in vegans. We may do it because we care about animals or about our precarious fate tied to our eating habits. People are going hungry today. If that’s your call to action, this remedy is also found in lowering the demand for animal protein in our diet. My math might be slightly off, but where beef is concerned, I believe it takes 17 pounds of plant protein to create one pound of beef. Is this a way to nourish 17-times more people? And besides addressing malnutrition, we also lessen the demands on scarce ground water and reduce greenhouse-causing methane. There’s a big carbon footprint to this weekend’s pot-roast. 

We have more access to information than our recovery predecessors did. The American Journal of Clinical Nutrition[iv] findings have been out since 2003:   

The World Health Organization recently reported that more than 3 billion people are malnourished. This is the largest number and proportion of malnourished people ever recorded in history. In large measure, the food shortage and malnourishment problem is primarily related to rapid population growth in the world plus the declining per capita availability of land, water, and energy resources. 

If my burger depletes more land/water/energy resources that the equivalent nutritional injection from plant-based food, and that means someone else goes hungry as a result, how can this not influence my sober second thought?   

The point The Atlantic makes is small changes count, too. Feel hostile about having your steak or burger taken away? Cut down to one beef serving each month or each week, instead of completely. If you buy the science argued in the article, any positive change will help. When offered The Atlantic’s means of reversing our ecological damage, that takes away the hopelessness of, “What can one person’s actions do?!?!?”” 

But wait; isn’t diet or climate change an “outside issue” that risks dividing recovery communities who ought to be sticking to our primary purpose? This “stick to the knitting” thinking isn’t widely held among your recovery peers. In the Canadian 2015 study, Life in Recovery from Addiction. Participants were asked a number of questions over several themes about substance use and what recovery from alcohol and other drugs looks like, today. Along with meetings, therapy, medicine or treatment, respondents were asked to report on their recovery life more broadly. From a menu of choices, participants checked of one or more supports to their recovery… 

  • “Nutritional plan or diet” was checked off by 70% of respondents and 
  • “Relationship to land and natural environment” was a factor for 67% of respondents. 

Contextually, diet and the environment ranked lower than “relationships with friends and family,” “meditation,” “recovery reading” and “exercise.” However, diet/environment were more important supports to recovery than “smartphone apps,” “yoga” or “social media.” So, yeah, most people in recovery consider the food they eat and our environmental impact to be more vital to their recovery than this blog. I’m fine with that. 

Of respondents who recognize diet as integral to recovery, 89.5% rate this support as very important or somewhat important. Relationship to land or natural environment was somewhat or very important to 88.3% of respondents.[v] 

So, can we really call food and climate “outside issues”? Our 12-Step fellowship wont’ be campaigning on pro-vegan behavior any time soon but our fellow home group members are taking a stand and voting with their grocery and menu choices. These Life in Recovery Canadian findings are not unusual when compared to other surveys from other countries. 

Altruism is done, of course for the wellbeing of others but the unavoidable psycho/ social/physical karma-pay-back from acts of selflessness include: 

  • the release of endorphins, 
  • improved mental and physical health, 
  • feelings of gratitude and satisfaction.[vi] 

This isn’t self-help leftist woo-woo. This is scientific findings. Charity and kindness evokes happiness, self-efficacy and enhanced positive self-evaluations.[vii] 

We take our own inventory and we don’t judge others, right? Still, our inventory may lead to thinking about the company we keep. The “Group of Druggies” or “Group of Drunks” does represent a type of higher power, or power of example that influences our choices. Positive prosocial behavior is contagious and so is enabling destructive behavior. Hanging around AA or NA, we may be more likely to be in the company of smokers and excessive coffee drinkers? What a rich history; AA’s founders, died of cancer (Dr. Bob) and emphysema (Bill W), possibly both associated with preventable, reversible illness affected by lifestyle choices. 

A higher percentage of people in recovery smoke, compared to the general population. I see some treatment facilities offering a smoking area for clients and others include smoking cessation as part of the treatment. I don’t smoke but I wonder if this no drugs, no drinking, no smoking rigidness is an overreach into radical purity, forgetting that even smokers in recovery are better citizens and family members than they were when these smokers were drinking. My inclination may be true, but what is bearing out is that by continuing smoking relapse is more likely than for non-smokers: 

The researchers found that people who smoked cigarettes at the initial interview and who were still smoking 3 years later were about 1.5 times more likely to use drugs and twice as likely to have [Substance Use Disorder] SUD at follow-up than those who quit smoking. Among non-smokers at the initial interview, those who had started to smoke between interviews were almost 5 times more likely to report substance use at the follow-up compared with those who did not smoke. (National Institute on Drug Abuse May 2018)[viii] 

If you or I keep smoking while giving up addiction to other substances, relapse is statistically more likely. If we smoke and we’re a bad influence on others, they are more likely to relapse on their drug of (no) choice. 

A 2008 Browns University Medical School research study[ix] camped out around AA meetings in Nashville and concluded, “coffee and cigarette use among AA members is greater than among the general U.S. population.” 

“Hey, let me show you my 25-year NA key tag; hold my coffee and cigarette and I’ll get it out of my pocket.” Yes this “clean and sober” example of the 12-Steps at work is in recovery and meets the definition of recovery capital referred to above. Recovery is a continuum, no matter how black-and-white we want to define it. My sobriety date from drugs and alcohol hasn’t changed since 1976 but my trajectory has not been 100% improving health, 100% improving prosocial, 100% improving functionality. 

Ten and twenty years in, I’ve found myself starting again in other mutual-aid groups; I’ve struggled with mood and behavioral disorders. No one gets to dictate to you or me what our recovery journey ought to be. Mine hasn’t been a puritan’s life; it’s not about being perfect. For me, recovery involves a periodic inventory of what I stand for and how I’m doing. How am I being influenced by those around me? What kind of example am I to others? These are questions I ask. 

 I am more than comfortable in the company of society’s undesirables. People who need love the most, deserve it the least. How many people have loved me more than I deserved over the years? I can surely play it forward.  I don’t refuse to talk recovery with smoking newcomers. But I need to balance this with positive influences; I have people who subscribe to a whole-food, plant-based diets in my life, people who are as committed to exercise as they are to meetings, people who talk about good sleep-hygiene, civic engagement and environmental stewardship. 

In terms of my own food-righteousness; I am gentle with myself. Being better about eating food with a lower carbon footprint is a “progress—not perfection” tenet for my sobriety. Rigidity is its own addictive trap. It’s the unhealthy extreme of order in my life, the same way chaos is the unhealthy extreme of spontaneity. I aim for wellness, not perfection.  “Impossibly good” as a goal, depletes recovery capital as far as I’m concerned.

I’ve talked before about my new mantra of, “I strive for ‘sober enough’ today.” 

I’m not trying to be the poster child for all that recovery can be. I’m a sample of recovery and I don’t want the weight of being “the” example. Growth for me affects all the choices I make, in how I vote, spend my free time, the food I eat are part of this growth. I never wake up the next morning and I wish I had the burgers and chocolate cake the night before. 

I hope this blog hasn’t regressed into a preachy rant. What “sober enough” means for each of us is very personal. What’s for lunch? 

Here’s the “Beans for Beef” The Atlantic article: https://www.theatlantic.com/health/archive/2017/08/if-everyone-ate-beans-instead-of-beef/535536/ 

View or read this blog in a PDF here.

[i] The Pilgrim Chapter 33, Kris Kristofferson 

[ii] Brand, Russell, Recovery: Freedom from our Addictions, London, Bluebird 2017 

[iii] https://www.theatlantic.com/health/archive/2017/08/if-everyone-ate-beans-instead-of-beef/535536/ 

[iv] https://academic.oup.com/ajcn/article/78/3/660S/4690010/ 

[v] https://www.ccsa.ca/sites/default/files/2019-04/CCSA-Life-in-Recovery-from-Addiction-Report-2017-en.pdf 

[vi] https://www.addictionland.com/index.php/blogs/entry/altruism-in-recovery-benefits-more 

[vii] https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC5011126/ 

[viii] https://www.drugabuse.gov/news-events/nida-notes/2018/05/cigarette-smoking-increases-likelihood-drug-use-relapse 

[ix] https://www.eurekalert.org/pub_releases/2008-07/ace-cac071308.php

Have your say at AA's annual USA/Canada Business Meeting 

Rebellion Dogs Blog  - May 2019 

Have your say at the 69th 

General Service Conference of AA   

READ THIS AS A PDF instead.

Are you an AA member; a member of a group that has a General Service Rep? Do you know what (General Service) Area you live in? In case you feel or suspect that AA sees itself as a top-down operation, telling our groups what’s best, what to read, how to apply AA in our life, well, the General Service Conference wants you! 

The 69th General Service Conference (usually in April) will take a week in May to discuss what AA members want for the future. 

Your opinion/experience is sought and would be appreciated. Ninety-three Area delegates in Canada and the USA have shared at our Area Assemblies, with our General Service Reps, the topics being discussed this year. My delegate—maybe like yours—has reached out to members and groups for some directions in the decisions to be arrived at during this year’s conference. 

Have a look through some of the topics of this year’s rendition of AA-as a whole’s business meeting and see if there are any topics that you have a feeling about or opinion on. You might be skeptical that your opinion is/will be considered, but read on… 

Here’s some of what’s on the table at the 69th General Service Conference: 

Should we write/print a 5th Edition of Alcoholics Anonymous? 

Background: First printed in 1939, the 2nd Edition was 1955 featuring AA leading the world with affirmative action; one-third of the stories would be women AAs even though they made up less than 25% of our population. Added was a new “Foreword” and additional Appendices. I recall the 1976 the 3rd Edition being introduced without much fanfare. Early this century—2001—our current/4th Edition was published. Letters from four of our Areas have expressed an interest in a new Big Book with stories that better reflect our diverse membership. Of special interest is members who got sober before they reached 25-years-old. There is talk of a fourth section in the Big Book to accommodate these new stories. 

In 80 years, there have been four editions; the last one was 18 years ago so is it time for something new?   

There isn’t much chance that the 164 pages of basic text will be changed. A vote in 2002 agreed that the writings of Bill W should not be changed. We could vote again, but that’s not on the table at present. However, this would be a good time to add a new *asterisk* or two to give contemporary context to the 1939 view of alcoholism and AA recovery. Here’s an example I suggested to my delegate: 

What if when “God as we understood Him” was mentioned, an asterisk noted that today AA is made up of members that include atheists/agnostics as well as members whose spirituality doesn’t fall into our monotheistic narrative. We have secular AA meetings today that members with alternative worldviews share about AA in their own language. 

Will AA bow to my demand? It’s not a demand; it’s my two cents. Maybe others will express similar sentiments. But now the delegate voting for Area 83 knows how I feel and what I think would be good for AA as a whole. 

Fact: I just learned this the Area 83 delegate, who was at the conference in 2001, was given a first printing Edition Four. I’ve included a picture of the end of the first printing Edition Four “Foreword.” It contained a sentence that rose the ire of some of our AA members who felt at the time that online AA is second-rate to face-to-face(f2f) AA. They didn’t like how AA World Services represented us and they demanded a change. An entire sentence was removed (in bold): 

“The stories added to this edition represent a membership whose characteristics—of age, gender, race, and culture—have widened and have deepened to encompass virtually everyone the first 100 members could have hoped to reach. 

While our literature has preserved the integrity of the A.A. message, sweeping changes in society as a whole are reflected in new customs and practices within the Fellowship. Taking advantage of technological advances, for example, A.A. members with computers can participate in meetings online, sharing with fellow alcoholics across the country or around the world. Fundamentally, though, the difference between an electronic meeting and the home group around the corner is only one of format. In any meeting, anywhere, A.A.’s share experience, strength, and hope with each other, in order to stay sober and help other alcoholics. Modem-to-modem or face-to-face, A.A.’s speak the language of the heart in all its power and simplicity.” 

Check your own copy of Alcoholics Anonymous, if you have one or look here[i]: You’ll see that we removed a whole sentence. 

I’m trying to remember back in 2001, did we have MySpace then? Maybe ICQ was the main platform of individual or group typing/ talking back and forth. I recall being part of an ICQ AA forum. When MySpace did come on the scene it really attracted AA members (and the larger recovery community). We grouped up to share pictures, topics, discussion, discuss anonymity, break our own anonymity, out other AA members, etc. We were learning as we went along. Can you imagine the essays Bill W would have written in Grapevine about the internet?    

Pre-Facebook and pre-Google Yahoo Groups was the best of interactive “anonymous” fellowship. There was a Yahoo Group called AAWR (A.A. Without Religion) and it was a collective of atheist/agnostic/freethinkers around the world starting topics about recovery and AA life. 

So what do you think about AAWS’s vision of 2001 AA? What do you think of AA as a whole’s outrage at the suggestion that online AA was just as good as f2f AA? 

I don’t know; maybe it was little liberal mythology about how adaptive AA was and the General Service Office got a little ahead of our collective conscience. Certainly, GSO got an ear-full and in-box full of heated reaction to the “Foreword” and they took the sentence out that seemed to be causing the bulk of the dissention. I though it was fine the way it was but people like me that liked it, never wrote to tell anyone. So, the members asked for a change and they were accommodated. 

Another literature issue is about adding something on the Twelve Concepts to Twelve Steps and Twelve Traditions (The 12 & 12) to complete the triangle of three legacies.  

Recovery, Unity and now the Service version of a dozen principles are being discussed to thicken up your 12 & 12. 

The A.A. Grapevine section: “Alcoholism at Large” 

Colloquially known as the Gray Pages, since 1948 we’ve reported medical, social, legal issues in the world regarding alcoholism. Uncle Bill W wrote, “The Grapevine should have freedom to print news articles relative to the whole field of alcoholism, excepting, however, those which might provoke needless dissension.” 

Some AA members, be they fearful or hostile about outside influences, have tried to shelter the fragile newcomer from our holy writ.  Our conference has had to review (and reaffirm) this section in 1974, 1984. The anti-AA-at-Large faction succeeded in having it removed in 1991 and it was brought back in 2007. New motions to toss these contemporary doctors’ opinions were brought to the floor in 2008, 2009 and 2014. Expect another heated round in May. 

If you let your Grapevine subscription lapse with your Life and Rolling Stone magazines, don’t worry about it.  If you have a feeling about Grapevine, share your position with your Area delegate and/or email Grapevine right away. 

AA Branding - our current perception from professionals and the general public

If you read the 68th General Service Conference Final Report, you’ll see that we spent some money on an outside agency, Impact Collaborative, to advise us on our messaging. How well was AA communicating with the public? What can we alter or improve? Well, it’s time to either take action or moth-ball the extensive report reveals through interviews and surveys what the current professionals and public perception of AA is. Here’s a clue… no one but AA says, “If it works, don’t fix it!” 

“The trustees’ Committee on Cooperation with the Professional Community/Treatment and Accessibility (CPC/TA) discussed these items and asked the secretary to work with the consultant on the creation of a LinkedIn page.” 

Your delegate will have all the background information. There are shortcomings in our branding with professionals. Surveys came back with a range of positive and negative comments; “AA still exists?” was among the responses. The term “Cooperation with the Professional Community” sounds like AA thinks we’re doing doctors and lawyers a favor—in their view. There are a lot of suggestions and ideas about modernizing our outreach and the awkward dance of maintaining online-anonymity and carrying the message whenever, wherever, blah, blah, blah. If you have concerns, questions, bright ideas, now’s the time; talk to your delegate or General Service Rep. 

But wait; there is more: 

We AAs are looking at how we deal with our relationship with correctional facilities. 

There is a limit to how much AA will accept from any member in a single year, including as a bequest. In 1967 it went up to $200 from $100. There were 1972, 1979, 1986, 1999, 2007 and 2018 increased – most recently $3,000 to $5,000. Should it be more/less? 

What about anonymity and Public Service Announcement videos. There is a movement to hire actors to play AA members for a PSA. Is that a good way to carry our message? 

The Final Report of the General Service Conference is under review. Any changes you’d like to see? 

If you have new ideas, tell your delegate. They can make a floor motion and if others agree with your idea it will be discussed. 

Nothing that takes place at AA’s annual business meeting compels our groups or us as members in any way. The conference serves the groups and members—it doesn’t tell us how to conduct ourselves or enforce changes or old or new rules. The conference's hope is to be the collective voice of AA. So, if you have something to add to the conversation, there’s more that you or I can do than simply talk about it at the coffee shop like we are Monday-morning quarterbacks that never get asked for our input about the big game. 

Now’s the time. 

[i] https://www.aa.org/assets/en_US/en_bigbook_forewordfourthedition.pdf

Musings from San Francisco - March 2019 Rebellon Dogs Blog 

The Program of Alcoholics Anonymous: Interpretive by Design 

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Just try to refute that membership in AA is based on individual interpretation of Tradition Three, “The only requirement for membership is a desire to stop drinking.” Or if you like long-form Traditions: 

“Our membership ought to include all who suffer from alcoholism. Hence, we may refuse none who wish to recover. Nor ought A.A. membership ever depend upon money or conformity. Any two or three alcoholics gathered together for sobriety may call themselves an A.A. group, provided that, as a group, they have no other affiliation.” Twelve Steps and Twelve Traditions pg. 189 

The program of AA has always been suggested, i.e. optional, i.e. open to individualized re-wording. This rugged individualism extends to our groups, too—our groups being collective iterations of our individual inalienable rights as AA members. 

To nurse anger at groups who interpret the Twelve Steps of Alcoholics Anonymous (re-write them), requires a lack of AA historical knowledge in order to get maximum indulgence in the dopamine-rush of righteous indignation. Rigid obedience to a literal interpretation of AA is permitted within any AA group—join such a group, form such a group—purge the demons, knock yourself out. However, such a literalist view cannot be imposed on other AA groups. At least, not by you or me. Only that group’s membership can judge that group’s rituals and practices; so it is written. 

February 2nd at 11 AM I was presenting on special purpose gathering of AA. I keep researching these topics, I keep presenting and you—the people I present to—keep offering me new information, new books to read, new archival items to seek out. History in AA is a collective, ever-evolving document and my trip west was no different. I read this book (pictured) which includes a story of 1965 San Francisco meeting which replaced the AA Twelve Steps with a ten-Step reading that is both secular and multi-substance (not alcohol only). My depth of knowledge continues to expand. 

Central offices serve groups, “they do not govern.” From time to time, our attention is drawn to the drama of central offices that express a negative view or exercised punitive actions upon groups that “break Traditions.” 

The Forum Group of AA. Founded in AA’s 30th year by Dr. Earle M., author of “Physician Heal Thyself!”, now pg. 301 in Alcoholics Anonymous Edition Four, 2001 and first printed in the Edition Two, 1955. The Forum Group founders found AA’s interpretation of higher power and the mono-focus on alcohol, unhelpful for their purposes; so, as I mentioned, they adapted. 

Dr. Earle describes in his book, a journey through long-term sobriety. Something Earle heard from those who came before him, was the Four I’s in his 1989 book, , Physician Heal Thyself: 35 Years of Adventure in Sobriety by an AA ‘Old-Timer’:   

  • Infatuation, 
  • Irritability, 
  • Inventiveness, 
  • Insight 

“I had my last drink on June 15, 1953,” Earle writes. “I’ve experienced the joys as well as the struggles of a growing, long-term sobriety. The Four I’s of Recovery have always intrigued me, and I have personally—and intensely—experienced each phase.” 

During his Inventiveness phase, Earle crafted a secular Ten Step version of the AA program focused on all addiction, not just alcohol use disorder. While it may have turned the odd eyebrow up, not only was this liberalism in keeping with 1960s San Francisco zeitgeist. It was Bill W who championed the idea of Earle’s story going into the Second Edition. Bill and Earle were close for at least the ten years leading up to The Forum coming to be. Would AA’s Twelve Step author disprove of someone taking artistic liberty with his Twelve Steps? Bill W’s on the record accounts of groups that act autonomously, such as re-writing Steps or ignoring Traditions, was delight expressed by Bill for these group’s pioneering spirit. 

Here are the Ten Steps of the Forum Group of AA (1965):

1.    We realized deeply that we cannot handle mind-altering drugs safely … our attempts to do so courts disaster. 

2.    As we commit ourselves to abstinence, we welcome Nature’s healing process into our lives. 

3.    In the group, we discuss our common problems in recovery; to do so hastens healing. 

4.    We find a friend, usually also recovering, with whom we can discuss our deepest, guarded secrets. Release and freedom become ours. 

5.    By making amends to ourselves and to others, we put to rest past injuries. 

6.    When we face our emotional problems squarely, we discover that change automatically happens. We do not seek change . . . It simply occurs. 

7.    Our lives are orderly and full of meaning as we live second for second. 

8.    Recovery together constitutes a fabric of unity. Each of us, however, follows a unique, personalized pattern of recovery. 

9.    We share our lives with those who are still drinking or using. Many of them decide to join us. 

10.   Our meeting doors are open to all users of mind-altering substances. The welcome mat is in full view. 

Twenty-five years after founding The Forum AA Group with fellow AAs, Earle recounts his pleasure with returning to the Bay-area to see his group still going strong. Earle M had other criticisms of our early writings. Earle didn't believe alcoholism was caused by underlying psychological issues. In his 1989 book, many original AAisms are refuted: 

"Alcoholics have the same psychological and emotional problems as everyone else before they start drinking. these problems are aggravated by their addiction to alcohol. Alcoholism undermines and weakens the alcoholic's ability to cope with the normal problems of living. Furthermore, the alcoholic's emotions become inflamed both when [drinking] excessively and when [they stop] drinking. Thus, when drinking and when abstinent, [they] will feel angry, fearful, and depressed to exaggerated degrees."[i] 

This biogenetic view was broadly introduced to professionals and the addiction/recovery community in 1981’s Under the Influence: A Guide to the Myths and Realities of Alcoholism by James R. Millam and Katherine Ketcham. 

  • “Myth: People become alcoholics because they have psychological or emotional problems which they try to relieve by drinking. 
  • Reality: Alcoholics have the same psychological and emotional problems as everyone else. These problems are aggravated by their addiction to alcohol.” 

Doctors Earle M was surprised to learn that he informed James Millam's views. Millam had heard a tape of one of Dr. Earle's chalk-talk presentations. Earle was thrilled to finally meet Dr. Millam.

I don't believe addiction is strictly psychological or physical. There is a case for alcoholism as a coping technique for managing trauma, loss, etc. Many identify with this correlation meaning causality.

Today, led in part by expanding neuroscience, the AA idea of addiction as symptom is back in vogue. In 1939 AA’s how-it-works—”Our liquor was but a symptom. We had to get down to causes and conditions.” Alcoholics Anonymous, pg. 64. Here's a couple of credible advocates of the environmental cause and addictive effect: 

  • Johann Hari, 2015 Ted Talk, “I've been talking about how disconnection is a major driver of addiction… the opposite of addiction is not sobriety. The opposite of addiction is connection.”[i] 
  • Dr. Gabor Mate In the Realm of Hungry Ghosts, “Don’t ask ‘Why the addiction?’ Ask, ‘Why the pain?’”[ii] 

Personally, I’m agnostic about this chicken and egg question of what is cause and what is effect. I think it's complex; I'm not a reductionist. I prefer an abstract vs. binary reasoning approach to such constructs; Is either/or the best way? I'm not convinced. 

My story? I had traumas/emotional turmoil before my drug use. Yes, I did medicate those uneasy feelings with drugs/booze. The medicating started once I experienced how being high made me feel more like a stud and less like a dud. But also, alcoholism is found in my family (another risk factor). So, were my environmental or genetic factors to blame? 

I appreciate what I learned in my time in the rooms with Adult Children of Alcoholics. Many ACAs with my same environmental and genetic issues didn't develop addiction. Instead, ACA members developed other manipulative coping techniques: The Adult Child “Laundry List” articulates some of these: seeking approval, merciless self-criticism, difficulty having fun, hyper-responsible, lying, inability to see projects through to conclusion, etc.[iii] 

Some of us in AA drank with impunity for decades as high-functioning alcohol users, never crossing an invisible line from copious consumption to self-destructive 'survival drinking' until our retirement years. These people seem to have become alcoholic from excessive long-term use. 

It seems that many roads lead to addiction. I’m not married to the “disease” model of addiction, either. “Disease” is way better than the “moral-failing” model but it’s not perfect. We could spend a day on recovered vs. recovering and/or behavioral vs. biogenetic causal factors. These are great debates for a long drive. 

For those who come to San Francisco Summertime will be a love-in there 
In the streets of San Francisco Gentle people with flowers in their hair

Thanks for your hospitality, San Francisco. I spent a week on your west coast during the Symposium on AA History February 1-3, 2019. San Fran feels like a home away from home to a hippy-at-heart like me. To everyone who drove me around, housed me, sat and talked, invited me to their meeting, had coffee or tea, broke bread with me—thank you. 

I’m really enjoying reading, re-reading and quoting Physician Heal Thyself! I know how great it is to share books and music with the people I love. While at a meeting, a member gave me their own cherished Thrift Books copy. How great is that? 

With all due respect and appreciation for Johann Hari, the connection I’ve always felt to books and music didn’t prevent or cure my addictions. But books and music are essential recovery capital builders in the treatment of said chronic conditions. Many a trouble time has been lessened by connecting to the right song or story. 

April 2019 marks 80 years since the Big Book came off the printing presses. Is that a long time or a short time? I’ve heard 100 miles is a great distance to Europeans and 100 years is a long time to Americans. That said, I don’t expect consensus on how long-in-the-tooth AA lore is. I can say this: AA has helped many and fell short for many, many more. But in 80-years, AA wasn’t stopping others from finding a better way; were we? If you or your group finds a method that brings recovery to every addict, my home group and I will stop what we’re doing and start doing what you do. Wouldn’t that be a relief? 

But until we find a way that works for everyone, Vive la difference. Let’s celebrate the pioneering spirit and remember that to question is to be a freethinker. Being critical isn’t being cynical. A beginner’s mind, an open heart and the right blend of cherishing the wisdom of ages and a willingness to test new things is still our best hope against a relentlessness, omnipresent addiction crisis. 

Through a 2019 lens, a book about a Caucasian, hetro, professional male talking about infatuation, irritability, inventiveness and insight challenges today’s attitudes about the privileged vs. marginalized classes. Earle’s book was written thirty years ago. I remember 1989; things have changed; how does Physician Heal Thyself! hold up? Earle comes across as being as self-aware and sensitive as any white male could be from the late-1980s. It didn’t read like misplaced entitlement to me.  I say this as a reader fresh off my research and writing about underrepresented populations in AA navigating the unintended but undeniable systemic discrimination. 

Our LGBTQ members, women, non-theists and youth look at irritability and inventiveness differently that those who hold the privilege of the majority. Infatuation, irritability, inventiveness and insight are described as phases. Being gay or atheist isn’t a phase. The reaction to women, youth, visible minorities informs the irritability more so than a phase or recovery. The need for groups that speak our own language does inspire inventiveness but that’s not best described as a phase either, but more of duty born of our responsibility (declaration). 

If you’re interested in the Symposium on AA History presentation on The Debate Over Special Purpose Groups, click HERE for the YouTube link. 

I really enjoyed presenting at the Symposium. It was an honor to sit in all the other presentations.[i] on AA. Thinking about early women or indigenous members in a white-man’s Alcoholics Anonymous, gay men and lesbians in 20th century AA meetings, young people and atheists/agnostics, in the case of these underrepresented members, irritability in AA, and the need for inventiveness are more acute. While systemic discrimination is rarely intentional, it still drives away more members even as we aim to widen our gateway. 

In the same year Dr. Earle M. was finding sobriety, the April (1953) A.A. Grapevine published an article, “Women are only Tolerated in AA; they are the Orphans of AA.” AA’s meeting in print went on to say: 

I never dreamed there existed so much hostility toward women alcoholics until I started to attend AA meetings. I bless the woman member who steered me to a woman's discussion group in the hard first months of my sobriety, because without its guidance and intimate group therapy I might have dropped out as countless other women do. 

The few women who have ‘made’ the program have done so despite the tremendous handicaps placed in their way by other women, by men members, and by non-alcoholics. I know for a fact that too many women AAs are suspicious of and hostile toward their own sex. The men, conditioned by their bar experiences, also view the female alcoholic with suspicion and hostility. There are many exceptions, of course, and my present group is one of them.” 

Again, what may be a phase for the privileged majority, is something more for underrepresented populations in AA. For women, indigenous peoples, youth, non-theists, LGBTQ members, The Four I’s of Recovery ensure that “whenever someone reaches out, the hand of A.A. will be there.” Long live infatuation, irritability, inventiveness and insight. 

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[i] Pronouns in [ ] replace male pronouns used in the day with gender-neutral terms. 

[ii]https://www.ted.com/talks/johann_hari_everything_you_think_you_know_about_addiction_is_wrong?language=en 

[iii] https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=ARyq_BtCVMo 

[iv] https://www.verywellmind.com/common-traits-of-adult-children-of-alcoholics-66557 

[v] Get the audio for the 2019 Symposium on AA History and hold the date for the 6th Symposium: https://www.aahistorysymposium.org/

[vi] San Francisco, Scott McKenzie https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=7I0vkKy504U

 

The future of "Suit Up and Show Up" in AA culture 

“Suit up and show up!” Who’s heard this Circa 1958 AAism? The picture above is from the first International Conference of Young People in AA, Niagara Falls New York, 1958. Is business-wear the best way to represent AA from the podium today? Let’s think, think, think about this ritual’s potential impact on the future of Alcoholics Anonymous, good bad or indifferent. 

Does wearing formal clothing help our personal self-image and thus, impact how we project ourselves? Do members in evening gowns and suits give the AA gathering credibility with the public? Do suited and skirted AAs at the podium, attract newcomers in ways that casual-wear members can’t? 

Is this AAism true for you?: “The newcomer is the most important person in the meeting.”

“What if someone here, is at their first AA meeting,” is among our considerations when a group conscience sees fit to tell/suggest to each other, how to talk or dress when we chair or speak at an AA meeting. Such discussions are not the prerogative of the group but also a duty. This individuality of our groups is by design, regardless of how structured or spontaneous, how formal or casual, each group chooses to present itself.

My feeling is that there is a principle embedded in the “suit up and show up,” saying that is timeless and noble. But also, the habit is dated and possibly antithetical to attracting new people and coaxing back the good ol’ days of a remembered AA that was growing year-over-year, decade after decade. 

Let’s remember that in the good ol’ days we’re talking about included cancer from second hand smoke in AA meetings and driving our kids in cars without seat-belts. 

My self-image does improves when I take care of myself and treat myself well. Even if dressing nicely is the most superficial of self-care, I think pop-psychology or even common-sense concedes that by applying personal hygiene and dressing for success (whatever that means to us), we feel better. Going to the meeting will improve our mood and/or enrich our sober-swagger. I’ve also adhered to "come as you are," unshaven and in scruffy cloths; I was made to feel welcome. I felt good about being at that meeting, too. 

What I want to explore is if suits and evening wear, worn by speakers at conventions or AA meeting, add value to the new member and/or the long-term health and prospects for AA. My local regional annual AA/Al-Anon/Alateen conference attracts 2,500 to 3,500 annually. This year the Ontario Regional Conference[i] is 76-years-old. When I’m invited to speak, like anyone, appropriate attire is suggested. At our Area 83 Assembly, the Area Committee uniform is suits and ties for men, the equivalent business-wear for women. General service volunteers and others who are presenting over the weekend or standing for an elected position on the biennial election Sunday are almost always suiting up, most likely as coached by the sponsor—or this century-21 label I hear now—”service sponsor.” Sporting a $800 sweater and $400 jeans, you may still be unelectable at my Area Assembly. 

“Suit up and show up” is common in my neck of the AA-woods since I moved to Toronto—the business capital of Canada—in 1985. The purpose of “suit up” then, was to inspire confidence in AA with the public, to make AA sobriety look attractive to the still-suffering alcoholic. Remember the 1980’s “dress for success?” Double-breasted jackets and women’s pant-suits of the 70s gave way to retro 1950s thin ties and suits and body-glove tube dresses for women. And in 1985, AA was still growing, correlation was assumed to mean causality. It was working because we suited up and showed up. 

AA Growth vs USA 

Population in AA stopped growing in 1991 (according to our own communication between the General Service Office and home groups). We were 2.1 million AAs worldwide in 1991. The USA had 253 million citizens. In 2018 there were 29% more Americans: 327 million. If AA grew by the same 29% we would be 2.83 million members. Yet, our data shows 2,087,840 worldwide AAs (1/2 of our membership is in the USA).   

As TV doctor’s would say, “How’s that working out for you now?” AA membership is not growing, and our membership is aging. Is the hipster-Tao wardrobe of Refuge Recovery winning over potential AA members? Does the come-as-you-are of SMART Recovery account for their adding numbers while AA wanes? I don’t think it’s that simple. Many influences of newer offerings—Women for Sobriety, LifeRing, more contemporary 12-Step models like Marijuana Anonymous and Meth Anonymous (just to use the Ms as an example), have a more contemporary vibe. AA’s nostalgia-adoring rituals maybe are a contributing factor in our decline in attractiveness with today’s newcomers.  

I was invited to speak when I was out of town at an AA group. It was a traditional meeting and as the secretary prepared me in advance with the meeting rituals—what they do and do not like to hear from the podium—appropriate attire was brought up. A couple of things here… Without prompting, I would have showered, combed or tied back my hair and wore something nice, but I wouldn’t have worn a suit. I don’t work or live in suits, even though I have a fairly professional job. My clients—also professionals—don’t wear ties, either.

Still, I think it’s just fine for meetings to honor rituals in the autonomous manner to which we've become accustomed and be above reproach from fellow AAs; different strokes for different folks. If my meeting inadvertently make one still-suffering feel awkward, we may inspire hope in another still-suffering. Some in our meeting would prefer your meeting; vive la différence 

I don’t feel controlled or constrained or prejudiced because a meeting secretary makes such a friendly request. Again, I don’t think AA ought to be 120,000 uniformed meetings. We are not McDonalds fast-food chain. I don’t think AA meetings ought to be uniformed, either in my image nor anyone else’s. When I visit your group, I want to both respect group customs and be authentic. 

In part, I dawn the hippy-like hair to say, “I got to be me.” Even though I’m a member of the Toronto business world where long-hairs aren't in the majority, authenticity is valued more than insincerity. I don’t think that’s unusual, today. So, my long hair—in the style that I first presented to the world in the 1970s as an emerging adult, just in this new 50 shades of grey—is how I roll. Maybe I’ll change; I have in the past. For a long time, it was quaffed in business-savvy conformity. Maybe you’ll see me doing it again if I feel like it. But today, I tend away from actions that suggests I am trying to win the approval of others. I’m not a rebel for rebellion’s sake but I don’t want to get drawn into establishment trappings mindlessly, either. 

So, I found myself in a foreign city, I’m a guest at someone else’s meeting; what do I do to maintain my non-conformity and also be a good guest? Authenticity and amenability are both values I hold. Well, hair down would be less conforming than tight back in a ponytail, so I lose the hair-tie. Secondly a white shirt screams conformity and lack of imagination, so I didn’t even pack one. I have long held that bow ties are sassier and a little less playing the game, so a bow tie, and never a clip on. Even in non-conformity, I’m still a cultured gentleman. 

There’s still a way to bend the rules or at least, rock the conformity-lite look. I don’t want to offend the group’s long-time members. I am also mindful of, and hold an affinity for, the member who is wondering, “Realistically, is there a place in AA for me?” I know that feeling. I relate; after all these years, I still know doubt. 

I relate to the group who meets, takes inventory and wants AA to flourish and send a message that there is hope, no matter how far down the road one has gone. I want the same. I just don’t know that regurgitating every trick in the good-ol-days book is the right choice for a bright future. Nostalgia serves a mature organization; but a citizenry committed to challenges still to come, adapting to change, or better still, anticipation, offers more assurance for the future. 

Instead of reading, “During the meeting, please silence your mobile devices,” will we ever say, “During the meeting, better utilize your mobile devices to help carry the AA message to the alcoholic who still suffers.” 

What worked for AA back in the day? That's a useful question. More potent still would be, “What are the needs and expectations of those yet to come?”

  • Should my home group have a pay-pal account for people who prefer to tap thumbs than dig into pockets?
  • Should our group have a blog or a podcast?

Are these not the 21st century version of the pamphlet and the basket? 

The AA I was introduced to, ran a public service announcement in the “Personals” section of the Montreal Gazzette and we had a sandwich-board sign just outside the door to our meeting. So, while I can find clues from what worked for AA before, what is today’s equivalent of the personals-ad and the sandwich-board? Today, how do we convey AA’s message to the public, “If you want to drink and can, that’s your business; if you want to quit but can’t that’s our business—try AA.” Few read a newspaper anymore and the people who would have been walking by our sign in the 1970s have their eyes on their screen today. 

Back to the suits, Back to the Future 

In AA, we want to be credible; maybe even respectable. The means to that end: “suit up and show up,” is based on an era when you and I found suited business and political leaders credible and respectable. Generation-Z’s attitudes might view the same suit on the screen that instilled confidence in us, as untrustworthy—based on the lessons of their informative years. 

Depending who you ask, Generation-Z were born on or after either 1995 or 1999. Since the turn of the century we’ve talked about Millennials as they took their first key-strokes and crafted their first social media pages. Millennials are Gen-Y and some are turning 35-years-old this year. Older Z-gen youth are turning 20 or 24-years-old in 2019. 

Demographic data is being tweeted about the tastes of a new generation; the World Health Organization is concerned about how youth views should shape policy, The UK Guardian is interested in social implications, Inc.com wants to know what Gen-Z buy and how to market to them. How does The Hunger Games generation feel about the suits who are asking young people to buy their products or vote for their candidates? Survey says: 

“One-in-ten trusts the government to do the right thing. The number among millennials is a slightly rosier 20 percent. … a pathetic six percent of Gen Z trust corporations to do the right thing. The number for adults in general is 60 percent.”[ii]  

So, does this picture above inspire trust and confidence? Your age, gender, social status and nationality will have a bearing on how you answer this question. Results will vary. 

So if we greet the next generation with the business look, youth, in turn, will greet us with their business reaction, which is opposite of how Baby Boomers feel about suited stewards. Steve Jobs never wore a tie; he understood that this would lose the next-gen of smartphone consumers. 

Also, AA culture struggles to attract underrepresented populations as our race/age/gender stats reveal in P-48, AA Membership Survey[iii]. America and Canada, as is the case in all of the AA world, is multicultural. Will dawning the attire of an Anglo-Saxon cliché build bridges or barriers to cultural minorities? 

Every principle in AA that we embrace is timeless—as Bill W said, “A.A. was not invented! Its basics were brought to us through the experience and wisdom of many great friends. We simply borrowed and adapted their ideas[iv]”—but while we continue our legacy of borrowing from the past, adaptation remains vital to maintaining our relevance and attractiveness. 

Looking at this picture from the 1958 first ICYPAA at the top of this blog, we Americans and Canadians in attendance dressed and acted appropriately for the day. We carried the message; we made AA proud. But how effective would this wardrobe be at the 61st ICYPAA in Boston, September 1, 2019? I haven’t been to an International Young People's AA gathering for a couple of decades but, while we respected our past at ICYPAA, we represented AA’s future. 

For more on Gen-Z, Rebellion Dogs Publishing recently contributed to TheFix.com[v] as we explore the worldview of youth today and ask if “spiritual-not religious” is a broad enough 12-Step gateway to be relevant to teen alcoholics. Yes, I'm a teen alcoholic; at fourteen, I was brought to my first meeting. AA would eventually work for me. As I turned 20, my fourth clean and sober anniversary was just around the corner. I remember my head going down at meetings when I heard “AA is a fellowship of men and women…” not wanting to draw attention to the fact that, as a teenager, “men and women” didn’t include me. AA Grapevine didn’t intentionally  dis-include me; much of discrimination is subtle, even below our awareness. Still, all of our rituals, attire, readings and meeting customs, if not reviewed from time to time, may grow ineffective for the new person with substance use disorder who is suffering.

With each ritual or reading, we can ask if this does more to attract or more to alienate. If we're not sure, try new things. AA is always trying new things, isn't it? All par for the course in a daily-inventory peer-to-peer group of common suffering like ours.   

OTHER PEOPLE TALKING ABOUT THE FUTURE: On Episode 43 of Rebellion Dogs Radio we have two authors discussing future trends. M. Andrew Tennson wrote Killing the Bear: Surviving Teen Addiction and addiction and family therapist, Jeffrey Munn speaks to a youth more secular than their parents in Staying Sober Without God: The Practical 12 Steps to Long-Term Recovery from Alcoholism and Addiction. Two tunes, two interviews, commentary, all this in less than an hour of February Twos - to kick the February Blues. CLICK HERE from Rebellion Dogs Radio.

[i] https://aaorc.ca/ 

[ii] https://www.inc.com/jessica-stillman/gen-z-is-anxious-distrustful-and-often-downright-miserable-new-poll-reveals.html 

[iii] https://www.aa.org/assets/en_US/p-48_membershipsurvey.pdf 

[iv] Bill W letter 1966 

[v] https://www.thefix.com/aa-too-religious-generation-z

July 2018: Resentements Coffee Pots and new AA Meetings 

Read or print PDF version HERE

 Our Summer Box 4-5-9: News and Notes from the General Service Office of A.A.[i] reports about 15,000 less AAs, year-over-year. Also, of us two million +/- members, we are spread between 2,000 more meeting options than in 2017. 

Trends in membership and group totals might reveal changes in AA through the years. People joke, “The only two thing you need to start a new AA group is a resentment and a coffee pot.” Of course, new meetings start for a variety of reasons. 

Sobriety is dynamic for many of us; if we’re doing AA “right,” we change. Maybe, we want our group to change, too. Have you ever brought a motion to your home group to change, add or replace a group ritual or reading? 

How did it go? What did you do about the outcome? 

Yes, groups do change. But it’s also not uncommon for the group to resist change and those who championed the change, they either let it go, or they go start a new group “that does things right.” 

If you follow AA membership trends, you know that AA grew and grew and grew some more; then we stopped growing. We were half a million when I came to my first AA meeting in the 1970s. We doubled to one million before I was six years sober (1,064,784 in 1982) and we doubled again eight years later (2,047,252 in 1990). For 38 years since, we’ve had flat membership totals, up or down 10% from this two million mark. 

The number of groups keep increasing. The last ten years shows that while we had the same population in 2008 as we have today, two million members have spread out over 7,000 extra groups, growing from 113,168 to 120,300 registered groups in a decade. Looking further back, in 1998 we had just a few less members, but we gathered in only 98,710 groups. The members per group isn’t substantially different; 20 members per meeting 30 years ago vs. 17 members per meeting, today. 

History of AA Growth: eighty years of resentments and coffee pots 

Meet someone in the know about early AA… 

Between New York City and San Francisco, for two decades, Jackie B has been a director, playwright, administrator and performing arts producer. Along with her professional endeavors, Jackie is an AA historian. Drawing on her playwright skills, Recovery Plays by Jackie B[ii] creates a living connection between the recovery community and the early experience of AAs and our groups. 

In 2006 In Our Own Words: Pioneers of Alcoholics Anonymous was the first to be created. Jackie’s second AA-history play about the Traditions, Our Experience Has Taught Us closed after four years of touring, raising $30,000 for recovery service organizations in the Pacific Southwest. I Am Responsible[iii] premiered last year (February 2017). A struggling skeptic newcomer—Joe—wonders if there is a place in AA for his atheism. He talks with Lou at their home group; Lou knows a little something about struggling with, “Do I belong in AA?” Lou was the first African American General Service Conference delegate in 1966-67. In 1951, “Blacks weren’t even allowed in the clubhouse,” Lou tells our newcomer. “There was only one meeting in Philadelphia he could attend—the inter-racial group.” 

Jackie B is looking ahead to the International Conference of Secular AA (ICSAA 2018)[iv] where she’ll be presenting some of her research in a workshop called Underrepresented Populations in AA, Sunday August 26th. Also, in Jackie’s foreseeable future, she will be presenting at the 2019 Symposium of AA History[v] which, I found announced on the East Bay AA Intergroup website.[vi] 

I note two things: First, the location for Symposium of AA History has been moved from Sedona Arizona to Northern California; secondly, The Bay Area AA seems to have a lot more fun going on than my Toronto Intergroup website; the grass is always greener on the California side of the fence.   

I remember learning about early LA group history from the characters in Jackie B’s Recovery Plays #2, Our Experience Has Taught Us: A Sensational History of our Twelve Traditions. Through the characters, we hear about the second Los Angeles area group starting in early AA. The first group reacted, “You can’t do that! We’re in charge of AA in California.” 

If you’ve been involved in AA-service, this doesn’t sound so unbelievable. Sometimes, fear and ego take hold when love and humility ought to be guiding us. 

Talking with Jackie by phone, I ask about archives she was drawing upon. Let me share some of those details. If you know Los Angeles history documents and recordings, you know Sybil C. 

“From a 1985 speaker tape, Sybil talks about the second LA group starting, “Instead of going down and listening to the speakers at the mother group, [Tex] said ‘Why, the drunks ought to have a chance to talk. I’m going to start a participation meeting. […] Tex is starting this group out there in Huntington Park, and the powers that be downtown are saying to me, ‘What’s your brother up to?’ and I said, ‘Well he’s starting a group out here in Huntington Park.’ 

‘Well, he can’t do that!’ 

‘Well, he has!’ 

‘He can’t do that, we’ve incorporated Alcoholics Anonymous in California. That means no one can start a group unless they have our permission.’ 

So Tex went down there, and [the founders] bawled him out and they said, ‘We don’t want you here, sir! You came down here a few times, and caught on how to do it, and now you’ve started a rival group out there in Huntington Park!’ ‘It’s not a rival group,’ Tex said. ‘We’ve just got folks who are driving so far from Long Beach to the Friday night meeting, we thought we’d start one halfway [on a different night.] See?’ They said, ‘No, we don’t see! Now our attorney has incorporated Alcoholics Anonymous of California and if you don’t fold that group up, we’ll sue you and we’ll run you out of town, because you are hurting this group!’ […] 

And Tex sat down and laughed, and he said ‘You might as well try to incorporate a sunset. I’ll bet you that in a couple of years, you’ll have groups [all over the state] …” 

Group #2 in LA, started by Sybil’s brother, Tex, was called the Hole in The Ground. Jackie reports that Matt M (Sybil’s sponsee), on the AA History Lovers Yahoo Group elaborated, “Back then, if you started a meeting you owned it. They [LA founders: Cliff W., Frank R. and Mort J.) got furious at Tex A, Sybil's brother, who started the Hole in the Ground Meeting in Huntington park. He told them it was a long rough drive to downtown LA from his home (no freeways back then, no route 10, no route 5).” 

“And we know about Clarence in early-day Cleveland,” Jackie adds, “Largely from How It Worked, by Mitchell K[vii],” Jackie adds. On pages 150-151, we read, “Clarence was fond of saying ‘All you need to start a meeting is a resentment and a coffee pot.’ He said felt that if there were any real unity, all that there would be in the world is one very large and boring meeting. He said, ‘A.A. didn’t start, or grow in unity. A.A. started and grew in riots.’ 

“Clarence also said, ‘When we had our first UNITY in Cleveland, we didn’t split into two groups. We did one better. We split into three.’” 

From Akron to Cleveland, from the G. Group to the Borton Group to the Orchard Grove Group, Ohio AA grew the same way it sometimes does everywhere, “Fine then! We’ll go start our own meeting; we’ll show you.” 

This year at the Ontario Regional Conference of AA in Toronto, the 24-page glossy booklet, 75 Years of A.A. in Ontario was given to attendees. It reports the first Canadian gathering of AA in January 13, 1943 where six alkies and two friends of alkies met at Little Denmark Tavern and Restaurant. Later they moved to a church where six attended the first AA meeting January 28th. 

Along the highway from Toronto to Detroit, meetings started in Windsor and London Ontario. More Toronto groups and an AA clubhouse were added. By 1945, meetings were started in Ottawa, Sterling and Hamilton and a Women’s group started in Toronto. 

Dorothy C was at the first AA gathering in 1943. The booklet reports, “This fledgling [Women’s] group had only twelve members. Frequently less than eight were in attendance. In 1945, for women, family responsibilities were supposed to come before their own sobriety. 

GSO records reports that within ten years (1953), there were 503 AA groups in Canada. The 75th booklet celebrates other firsts through the years, too. Our first correctional meetings (in jails) are recorded, the adventures of Pat, Rubin, Jerry and Dennis—founders of the first young people’s group (1950), the December 1973 first Gay AA, encouraged from a California group, Alcoholics Together (AT). “The name came about because the local intergroup office would not allow the group to be listed as an A.A. group. The Toronto members faced a similar problem here.” 

Care to take in a little Canadian AA history next month? ICSAA 2018 Attendees can visit the Friday 5:30 PM open Big Book group called Stained Glass in Trinity Anglican Church where the first Gay meeting was held in Toronto. The church is on the same property as our Marriott Toronto Easton Centre Hotel. “The founding members were David C., Jack M., Kevin B. and Ron P. Combined, they had a total of about 35 years sobriety and were well known in Toronto A.A. and active in their home groups. 

”Grupo Nueva Esperanza opened its doors April 24, 1984” as the first Spanish speaking Ontario group. Little know in secular AA circles the booklet reports, “Secular meetings are first documented by Bill W. in A.A. Comes of Age. District 22 [Toronto East] Minutes of Sunday September 10, 1995 show in New Business, the formation of We Agnostics, a new group with two founding members.” 

I never knew about the meeting at the time, or I would have enjoyed going. AAagnostica.org recently posted an article from Moncton New Brunswick’s Michael who travelled in early sobriety and had gotten to Quad-A meetings in Chicago (AA for atheists and agnostics) and he started what might be Canada’s first: “I started to think my home city of Moncton, New Brunswick, needed a similar meeting. With one other member with similar “grievances” we started a secular group in 1992 – the “AA 4AF” group – Alcoholics Anonymous For Atheists, Agnostics and Freethinkers. The group was registered with GSO February 14 with the Service Number 000170694.”[viii] 

Michael moved to another town and the meeting didn’t last—maybe an idea ahead of it’s time for Atlantic Canada. 

75 Years of A.A. in Ontario also includes a shout out to the first International Conference of Young People in AA, intentionally held on a border town—Niagara Falls, NY, 1958—both American and Canadian AA’s conspired to put it on. The 60th ICYPAA will be in Baltimore at the end of August. Keep reading for info and a cool, new video from ICYPAA. 

The LGBTQ Toronto Gratitude Round Up is recorded in the Ontario history booklet as is the upcoming ICSAA 2018 in Toronto. Kudos to the archivists/editors for remembering that AA’s history is still being made and always has been a work-in-progress.  The 75 Years of A.A. in Ontario is quite polite—not much of “the dirt” or the riots that we heard Jackie attribute to Clarence’s recollection of AA beginnings.   

I recently acquired Quebec’s history booklet. The Beginnings of AA in Quebec: The Charisma of an Ambassador is published by La Vigne Inc (French Grapevine 2010). This is 82 pages with pics of old Bill W letters and other memorabilia. It also has some of the dirt. The book is mostly about Dave B. Dave wasn’t the first AA sobriety in Montreal, but the founding member lost interest and lost contact with New York. When GSO heard from Dave they were happy to pass on a bundle of “please help” letters from 400 fellow Montreal alcoholics. Dave joined AA April 7, 1944. He went to work on the 400 prospects. By 1945 the 28 members meeting at Dave’s home needed a bigger space. Montreal growth included growing pains. The Forum, where the Montreal Canadians hockey team played, was renting a hall to AA. “In 1947, when there was about a hundred members, the Forum took back their hall after having discovered that certain members stayed there till three or four in the morning to play cards… Sainte-Mathias group opend so as to better welcome members from the city’s west. Preston Hall became home to the first French Canadian group (p. 31).” 

According to La Vigne AA, Vol 21, no 1, April-May 1985, “In 1949, Montreal had 400 members and 18 AA groups.” 

We’ve talked about some of the early Canadian secular AA meetings (agnostics/atheists/freethinkers/humanists/skeptics). It was overseas Buddhists that started the first AA meetings without prayer or gods; the first North American Quad-A (AA for atheists and agnostics) was held in 1975. 

At the time of posting the blog, there’s just seven weeks to ICSAA 2018, August 24-26 in Toronto. Courtney S of SecularAA.org reports there are currently 451 secular meetings in 363 locations. In 2015, there were 200 worldwide secular meetings, 100 in 2012 and ten years ago, we had about 50 agnostic/atheist groups. 

Over the last ten years, this subculture has doubled in size, twice. Is the population of natural vs. supernatural worldview holding alcoholics growing? Are non-believers coming out of the closet and saying, “To tell you the truth, I don’t believe in a prayer-answering higher power so, I’m going to stop talking like I do”? Some closet-agnostics/atheist just prefer meetings where they need not self-edit the experience of our recovery. 

One thing this rapid growth in secular AA might suggest, along with the overall growth in other new groups, could there be an overall demand for more specialized/ personalized AA? I expect that back-to-basics is growing just as rapidly as secular AA. Some like more of “this” and others need more “that.” 

We’ve looked a bit at how meetings/groups got started in different regions and wherever you’re from—I’d love to hear the story of your region’s early AA. Jump into the discussion. 

We’ve talked about—for lack of a better word—special purpose groups (women, youth, LGBTQ, other-language and secular meetings). If membership numbers stay stagnant and the number of groups keeps getting larger, are we fracturing into more and more special-interest echo chambers? 

Speaking of early AA, in 1946 Cleveland, from a club house wall, a poster reflected AA attitudes of the day: 

“AA groups are fundamentally little bands of people who are friends, who can help each other to stay sober. Each group therefore reflects the needs of its own members. The way a group is managed is the way its members want it to be managed for their common benefit. As a result, we have large groups, small groups, groups with refreshments, groups which never have refreshments, groups which like long meetings, groups which like short meetings, social groups, working groups, men’s groups, women’s groups, groups that play cards, groups which specialize in young people and as many other varieties as there are kinds of people. Each group has its own customs, its own financial problems, and its own method of operation. As long as it follows as a group the same principles AA recommends for individuals on selfishness, honesty, decency and tolerance it is above criticism.”[ix] 

 This is pre-Twelve Traditions; this is early mid-West AA. Say what?!? Does that sound a little more permissive that your last district General Service meeting? Wouldn’t you love this poster hanging on your meeting wall when someone goes all bug-eyed and says, “You can’t read that at an AA meeting!” You could just say, “Show me where it says what is forbidden or sacred on the wall… take your time.”   

The pamphlet “The AA Group (P-16)[x]” is worth reading if your home group no longer gets your juices flowing. The pamphlet might give you some ideas for what you like or don’t like in a meeting. Maybe you want more structure in your group. Maybe more spontaneity is how you’re sobriety roles, today. 

HOT OFF THE PRESS: A Resentment and Video Software – starting your own video… 

Getting active is going to be a must if you’re thinking of stating a new group that better suits your style. AA’s young people just put out a video on service (June 20, 2018); Millennials are so You-Tube! It’s called Service is The Secret[xi] - check it out, it’s very contemporary… as always, controversially so. Anyway, here’s what Millennials say about running their grandparent’s AA. It’s 7 ½ minutes. 

When I was on the EastBayAA.org site I noticed things going on in the hood. Camping for Young People, a weekend workshop called, “Legal, Tax, and Insurance Considerations for A.A. Groups,” “12th annual Courageous Women in AA,” Giants vs. A’s baseball outing, 23rd annual LGBT AA at Yosemite, “Unity & Service Conference,” “In-Between Fellowship 58th Anniversary (I don’t even know?!?!)” and of course—who’s coming (I know I am)—Symposium on A.A. History February 1-3, 2019. 

Under the East Bay group list, you can shorten your preferences with the following choices of AA Meeting: Fragrance-free, Dual Diagnosis, Cross-dressing permitted, Child-friendly, Living Sober, Smoking permitted, People of Color, Tradition Study, Transgender, Sign Language, Wheelchair Access, Candlelight, Spanish, Cross Talk Permitted and all the other garden-variety speaker, discussion, Big Book, open, closed, Women, Men, secular, Young People, LGBT, etc. Now there a variety of groups who prefer meditation over reading, some have Al-Anon participation, some leave it entirely up to the chair to pick a format. 

I expect each of these groups meets the criteria of the 1946, Ohio “What is an AA Group” definition, don’t you? We have meetings for AA doctors, lawyers and pilots, too. Fewer of these options were available when I first came around. Maybe the creation of more AA for specific demographics is why our meeting choices keep increasing while our population stays the same. Social media (and other internet sites) has provided AAs and the larger recovery community to commune under any number of umbrellas, too. 

I’ve heard, “If you haven’t met anyone you don’t like in AA, you haven’t been to enough meetings. Maybe if you don’t have a group that’s just right for you, you haven’t started one, yet. 

Is there a down side to AA groups continuing to be fractured into smaller more individualized groups? 

There is something to be gained by exposing ourselves to views and approaches outside our comfort zone. That has to be weighed against the benefits of a save, predictable atmosphere. I don’t know if it’s a “down” side but there is a financial cost to fewer members in more groups.

In family life, when mom and dad split up, kids and assets get divided between two homes. If kids are old enough they have a choice where they live; if they’re young, the parents or courts decide how much time they spend here and there. This might not be a broken home like many of us call it; it could be a healed home. In some cases, the environment(s) are better for all involved if mom and dad have grown incompatible. But when a family unit on a fixed income adds the cost of an extra home, that can lead to both mom and dad spending less time with kids (more work hours), it can thin out discretionary spending at best and cause financial chaos or collapse in a worst-case scenario. Two households increase cost of living and breakup rarely increases income to meet the new cost of living. 

AA groups are the same way; if half of a 20-member group start their own group then there’s less people at each meeting—less total financial contribution and (like the split-family) added costs. AA operates, by design on a corporate poverty model. Our service structure owns no, or very little, property, groups try to maintain their own prudent reserve but any excess seventh tradition accumulation above that prudent reserve, is sent to district, area, GSO or and/or our local central office to contribute our share to their expenses. Member and group participation is never predicated on ability to carry our weight. AA is never going to try to make a profit, but we do run on a razon-thin margin. GSO’s overall operating budget is about $16 million which is about $8 per member. Collective wisdom is that it would be great if General Service was 100% funded by groups/members/Areas but contributions only fund about ½ of our General Service expense; the balance is subsidized by publishing sales. The publishing world is going through changes right now and the dependence on a consistent income from future book sales in a digital era as a model for long-term viability has its critics. 

So at one end, GSO is wanting to be move towards being solely group/member funded (dependent) and at the same time members are starting more groups and taking on more local expenses so we don’t realistically have the prospect of extra money in the coffers to sent on to General Service. 

The resentment is free; the coffee pot has to be paid for by group contributions, just like the room rent where the power-outlet is that we plug that coffee pot into. 

Still, GSO’s long-term financial peril isn’t supposed to be the first consideration when thinking about breaking away from your current home group and starting one more to your liking. But it’s worth thinking about periodically and that’s part of what we like to muse over, once a year—our annual “AA by the numbers.” 

If you want to know more AA World Service income and expenses, ask your group GSR to get your group a copy of the latest General Service Conference Final Report. It’s a confidential document with some AA members names, addresses and phone numbers in it so it isn’t a publicly posted document. But it is every member’s right to read it each year. The 2018 68th General Service Conference Final Report will be printed in French, English and Spanish and available soon. Most GSRs have a 2017 report in their group binder. 

Thanks for following along.

[i] https://www.aa.org/newsletters/en_US/en_box459_summer_2018.pdf 

[ii] Recovery Plays by Jackie B http://www.recoveryplaysofjackieb.org/ 

[iii] Jackie's play:  https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=5SnH1Wwp9Qc 

[iv] https://www.secularaa.com 

[v] https://www.aahistorysymposium.org/ 

[vi] https://eastbayaa.org/symposium-on-a-a-history-february-1-3-2019 

[vii] https://orlandorecoveryfamily.com/2015/06/03/how-it-worked-the-story-of-clarence-h-snyder/ 

[viii] https://aaagnostica.org/2018/06/14/addiction-recovery-and-personal-character/ 

[ix] More on early AA with Ernie Kurtz and Bill White: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=xEab222byp0 

[x] https://www.aa.org/assets/en_US/p-16_theaagroup.pdf 

[xi] AA Service Video by ICYPAA participants:  https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=utl2Xy1_vK4

PDF version to read/print/post or save

More on member/group trends from 2017

Best Way to Predict the Future is to Create It 

Rebellion Dogs Blog, May 2018 

read/download as PDF

Why Now? 

With over 90% support of voting members, the 68th General Service Conference (2018), for USA/Canada, adopted and approved the pamphlet “The ‘God’ Word; Agnostics and Atheists in AA.” What has changed inside and outside of AA in such a short order? 

Rebellion Dogs Publishing and AA Beyond Belief are teaming up soon for a detailed look at the long road that brings this pamphlet to our home-group literature tables. I’m looking forward to that presentation which I hope you will find entertaining and informative. 

This is not that. 

Today, let’s look at changing mood, changing demographics and the continuing history of Alcoholics Anonymous. We see demographic shifts, particularly in America. Let’s also look at how the USA born Alcoholics Anonymous is managing outside the most monotheistic leaning of developed nations, the United States of America. 

Background: Just a few years ago, under the stewardship of then-chair of the General Service Board, Rev. Ward Ewing, the trustees’ Literature Committee had collected agnostic and atheist stories from Canada and the USA to create a home-made pamphlet. The format was like others, welcoming other underrepresented populations in AA: youth, the LGBTQ community, African Americans, women, indigenous people, persons with disabilities and/or requiring accommodation, etc. 

This noble endeavor failed to illicit the 2/3 majority that any advisory action requires on the General Service Conference floor. Instead, the rejected pamphlet was replaced with a working title pamphlet called “AA: Spiritual not Religious,” which would eventually be affirmed as “Many Paths to Spirituality.” 

How did we get from “the nays have it,” a few years ago, to “yes we will,” this spring? 

Here’s where our General Service Conference stood in 2011: 

“…the trustees’ Literature Committee continue to develop literature which focuses on spirituality that includes stories from atheists and agnostics who are sober in Alcoholics Anonymous. The committee expressed support for the trustees’ efforts to develop a pamphlet which reflects the wide range of spiritual experiences of A.A. members and asked that a draft pamphlet or progress report be brought to the 2012 Conference Committee on Literature for consideration.” 

As history recalls, the draft agnostics and atheists pamphlet didn’t get the substantial unanimity that “conference approved” requires. Instead, in 2014 we ushered in, “Many Paths to Spirituality.” Personally, I think “Many Paths” is a pamphlet with merit; but it falls short of satisfying the unmet need of atheists and agnostics stories in our own language. If other underrepresented populations have such a pamphlet, why not us? 

In Laval Quebec, the biennial Eastern Canada Regional Forum welcomed feedback from members in 2014. I remember asking Class B (alcoholic) literature committee trustee Joe D, standing at the podium, if the view of AA World Services Publishing was that “Many Paths” met the need of agnostics and atheist seeking a pamphlet. Joe D replied that, “Yes, ‘Many Paths’ was thought to satisfy the unmet need for atheist/agnostic literature.” 

I respectfully offered that in my discussion with members from my atheist/agnostic home group to the larger online secular AA community, it is widely felt that “Many Paths” does not satisfy our request. We still feel, literature with nonbelievers expressing what it was like, what happened and what it’s like now, belonged alongside, “AA for the Woman,” “AA for the Gay/Lesbian Alcoholic,” “Young People and AA,” “AA for the Native North American, “AA for the Black and African American Alcoholic.” 

Amy B of Grapevine and other Grapevine staff were in attendance. That’s when the idea first germinated for a previously published Grapevine atheist and agnostic stories be collected for a book. First, they got home from Quebec and put out a call to readers to tell our agnostic/atheist stories for the October 2016 issue of Grapevine. This Fall (2018), Grapevine books will include a collection of some of these stories and previous Grapevines going back to Jimmy B and other contributions.    

Through other regional forums and communication between AA groups and meetings with the General Service Office, it was affirmed that there was still an unmet need. I am sure that several of you, reading now, had your say. AA owes you a debt of gratitude for speaking up; if nothing happens, nothing happens. 

Meanwhile, the General Service Conference of the United Kingdom, which has the autonomy to create any literature requested by their own constituents, drafted a collection of atheist and agnostic AA stories from Britain. In 2016, “The ‘God’ Word: Agnostics and Atheists in AA”[i] was conference approved. 

“The ‘God’ Word” contains ten stories of experience, strength and hope. Some of these include recoveries from alcoholism in AA without our literature or 12-Step process. Other stories include experiences of adapting theistic Steps with more secular higher powers such as the AA group, the power of example, the healing power of one alcoholic talking to another. Unabashedly, “The ‘God’ Word" stories are told the same way believers stories go, take what you like (what works) and leaving the rest. 

As we’ve discussed before the General Service Conference has a president for adopting British conference approved literature for USA/Canada. In 1980, “A Newcomer Asks” became part of the USA/Canada literature offerings. “A Newcomer Asks” is the second most ordered pamphlet, next to “Is AA for You?”  This year, our General Service Conference approved the following advisory action:   

The pamphlet “The God Word” (currently published by the General Service Board of A.A., Great Britain) be adopted by A.A. World Services, Inc. with minor editorial changes. 

If you’re wondering what has changed so dramatically in mood and attitudes inside AA over just a few years, let’s consider how moods and attitudes are changing in America, where a little over ½ of AA’s approximately two million members go to meetings. 

Tobin Grant blogs for Religion News Service at Corner of Church and State, a data-driven conversation on religion and politics. He is a political science professor at Southern Illinois University and associate editor of the Journal for the Scientific Study of Religion.  In March of 2015 in The Christian Century, Tobin Grant reported on the following changes in Americans beliefs and behaviors: 

  • Fewer Americans Pray: The percentage who say they never pray climbed from 10% in 2004 to 15% in 2014. 
  • 34% of Americans “never attend a worship service (other than weddings and other ceremonies). This is a three-point increase from just a few years earlier.
  • The 2014 General Social Survey… shows that since 2012, the United States has about 7.5 million more Americans who are no longer active in religion. 
  • “When asked their religious preference, nearly one in four Americans now say, “none.” … There are nearly as many Americans who claim no religion as there are Catholics… If this growth continues, in a few years the largest religion in the United States may be no religion at all.[ii] 

To a more secular audience, in The New Republic,[iii] Isaac Chotiner points out that demographic changes are no changing of the guard. There is no score to settle, even if that’s to the chagrin of the anti-theist camp of secularism. Chotiner concludes his essay this way: 

“The truth is that this wave of secularism, like previous waves of secularism, will leave believers in perfectly fine shape. Religion, much to the dismay of diehard atheists, has a way of adapting itself to current conditions. This era will prove no exception.”  

Some of the discrimination that nonbelievers have suffered in AA and other 12-Step meetings comes from an ignorance that nonbelievers will become believers if they open their mind. Some discrimination is from a secularphobia that sees irreligion as a threat to the majority faith-based Americans and/or AA member. But Chotiner’s conclusions are that we’ve been here before, secularism isn’t contagious. To the grounded theist, secularists having their say or their own space is no threat to any true-believer. Perhaps in AA, there is more of a unity vs. uniformity vibe and less of an “AA under siege” fear. 

Consider that this vote wasn’t nonbelievers outvoting believers on the General Conference floor. The "yes" vote was inclusive-minded AA’s wanting everyone to feel included. Any slippery slope dread of what might happen if vulnerable newcomers are exposed to secular AA literature, has dissipated with moderate AA members. “The ‘God’ Word is blunt, but it doesn’t throw stones at traditional AA. The stories display a range – from those who disregard the 12-Step process to those who adapt strongly held AA tenets about powerlessness and power-sources to more behavioral/educational narratives of overcoming “a seemingly hopeless state of mind and body.” 

If AA reflects a cross-section of the world outside our meeting room doors, then fewer AA’s hold a supernatural view of what “a power greater than ourselves” means to each of us, personally. 

Also, if AA is like the rest of the community, apostacy affects some of our membership. In the rooms, I hear about members jumping into the AA idea of a loving higher power listening to our prayers and sending guiding messages. Some of us were outspoken about letting go and letting god (of our understanding). Gradually, some of us outgrow this conception of an intervening higher power. This isn’t to say a secular worldview is more evolved that a supernatural worldview. The point is that a secular approach to AA is no longer considered an intellectual holdout. Not-god is a perfectly workable view to AA sobriety. 

And the world we live in isn’t just theists vs. nonbelievers; some religious adherents don’t believe in an anthropomorphic higher power and others who believe in such an intervening supernatural power, don’t envision a “Him.” The creator is not called, “God” by all theists. 

From the Washington Post in 2014, Reid Wilson looked at the second-largest religion (next to Christianity) in each State: 

“In the Western U.S., Buddhists represent the largest non-Christian religious block in most states. In 20 states, mostly in the Midwest and South, Islam is the largest non-Christian faith tradition. And in 15 states, mostly in the Northeast, Judaism has the most followers after Christianity. Hindus come in second place in Arizona and Delaware, and there are more practitioners of the Baha’i faith in South Carolina than anyone else.”[iv] 

As for AA as-a-whole, AA’s greatest growth is coming outside the USA/Canada. Many developing countries are not monotheistical in their dominant culture. The Spring 2018 Box 4-5-9: News and Notes for GSO celebrated AA growth outside of our conference’s jurisdiction. Iran has 400 meetings, there was a women’s AA convention in New Delhi India, AA is growing in Uzbekistan.[v]  

The Spring Box 4-5-9 also announces under Items and Ideas on Area Gatherings for A.A.s, “August 24-26: Toronto, Ontario, Canada. 3rd.International Secular Conference Info: https://secularaa.com. 

While we await the 2018 member/group estimates (posted Summer Box 4-5-9), the 2017 report showed that 50,555 of AA’s 118,305 groups and 705,850 of our 2,103,184 members are from outside the USA/Canada jurisdiction. Year-over-year, membership held firm with thanks to double-digit increases in new members, internationally. While monotheism is known worldwide, polytheism such as Hinduism and non-theism such as Jainism or Buddhism will continue to account for more of AA’s cultural background. It’s great to ponder, as we have accommodated non-supernatural worldview members, will we continue to accommodate a growing variety of views of AA recovery, both natural and supernatural?

In that first United Kingdom pamphlet that USA/Canada adopted and amended, one of the “A Newcomer Asks”[vi] queries is answered this way: 

There’s a lot of talk about God, though, isn’t there? 

“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 nonbelief.” 

It would be interesting to poll members to understand who, A) “Calls it God,” B) think of it as the A.A. group” or C) don’t believe in it at all.”   Maybe a future triennial membership survey will ask us and then track changes in our beliefs through the years. 

I’ll look for reader help in sourcing our closing line. Peter Drucker, Abraham Lincoln and Alan Kay are all credited for saying this: 

“The best way to predict the future is to create it.” 

[i] http://www.alcoholics-anonymous.org.uk/download/1/Library/Documents/Literature%20Downloads/3267%20The%20God%20Word.pdf 

[ii] https://www.christiancentury.org/article/2015-03/75-million-americans-lost-their-religion-2012 

[iii] https://newrepublic.com/article/116509/secularism-america-good-everyone-including-christians 

[iv] https://www.washingtonpost.com/blogs/govbeat/wp/2014/06/04/the-second-largest-religion-in-each-state/?noredirect=on 

[v] https://www.aa.org/newsletters/en_US/en_box459_spring18.pdf 

[vi] https://www.aa.org/assets/en_US/p-24_anewcomerask.pdf

From Genius Recovery "What’s the Future of the Word 'Alcoholic'?" 

What’s the Future of the Word “Alcoholic”? 

Written for (reprinted from) www.GeniusRecovery.com by Joe C. January 18, 2018 [Click links below for videos, blogs and Genius Recovery resources]

Read in PDF (CLICK HERE)

Here’s a couple of thought experiments for fellow AA (and other 12-step) members: 

First, if you were asked to change one way you do things, which may make you uncomfortable for a while but might help others, would you do it? 

Here’s Question #2: would and could Alcoholics Anonymous adapt to a world whereby none of us called ourselves “alcoholic”? The same can be asked about your 12-step fellowship if you identify as a sex, food or marijuana addict. 

Medical, legal and cultural language evolves. In healthcare, person-first is replacing problem-first language. This isn’t hyper-liberalism; studies verify that person-first language promotes dignity and diminishes stigma. “Disabled people” or “the disabled” is problem-first language. Societal norms dictate “persons with disability” is less stigmatizing. We call ourselves alcoholics in AA. Outside our meeting doors, caregivers address us as “persons with alcoholism” or “persons with alcohol use-disorder.” 

The word “alcoholic” had a good run; great. We made it part of AA’s name; will that be a problem? If the word is going out of circulation, two-million people may feel duty-bound to preserve the word, "alcoholic."

Can we? Should we? 

AA was a breath of progressive, fresh air in the 1930s. “Alcoholic” identified people like me as having a medical problem instead of a character flaw or a moral depravity. Nobody in AA identifies as an “inebriate” or “deviant” in 2017; that sounds old-fashioned. In society at large, “alcoholic” is being retired. A younger, more empathetic, next-gen, person-first label will take over. 

Here are some insights I sought out from professionals early in the summer of 2017 and finally found a place to be shared on Genius Recovery January of 2018. 

William L. White is Emeritus Senior Research Consultant at Chestnut Health Systems / Lighthouse Institute and author of the award-winning Slaying the Dragon – The History of Addiction Treatment and Recovery in America. Bill reminds us of pre-alcoholic labeling. “Since the early 1900s, persons entering treatment for such problems have been labeled inebriates, dipsomaniacs,” and White continues with unflattering monikers that we still hear, “drunkard/drunk, sot, tippler, wino, boozer…suggestions have been made that the addictions field and the larger culture abandon all such terms, and like the larger health care and disabilities fields, embrace person-first language.” 

Back in January 2017, then director of the Office of National Drug Control Policy, Michael Botticelli put out a memorandum from the Executive Office of the President focusing on “Changing the Language of Addiction” to de-stigmatize our attitudes towards persons with alcohol and other drug-use disorders. On Here and Now in August, 2017, Botticelli told Robin Young that when looking at reasons that people cite for not seeking treatment, the #1 answer is stigma; they don’t want their neighbors finding out, they don’t want friends finding out. And one of the contributory factors to that stigma is our language. Botticelli said, “Often when we call people things like ‘addict’ or ‘junkies,’ not only are they incredibly judgmental words, but they also kind of pigeonhole someone’s entire being to that one single characteristic. And, again, this is where we’re beginning to have much more direct clinical evidence that words matter.” 

Person-first language is part of a bigger effort to destigmatize all marginalized minorities.

The American Psychological Association (APA), in a policy paper on disability, advises:

"Non-handicapping language is to maintain the integrity of individuals as whole human beings by avoiding language that implies that a person, as a whole, is disabled (e.g., disabled person), equates a person with his or her condition (e.g., epileptic)…” The APA emphasizes, “In focusing on the disability, an individual’s strengths, abilities, skills, and resources are often ignored. In many instances, persons with disabilities are viewed neither as having the capacity or right to express their goals and preferences, nor as being resourceful and contributing members of society.” 

William White draws from history:

“The twin challenges such movements face—from the civil rights and women’s movements to the disability rights movement—are to expunge (or re-purpose) objectifying, disempowering words and images and forge new words and images that convey respect, inspire new possibilities, and invite inclusion. The import of such efforts far transcends matters of superficial political correctness.” 

Last year (2017), with my brain locked on how words stigmatize and/or empower, I found myself in a conversation with David B. Bohl MA, CSAC, MAC, Director of Addiction Services at Rogers Memorial Hospital in Wisconsin [recently, author of his memoir, Parallel Universes: A Story of Rebirth]. I wanted to get his take on language, stigma and shame. Our conversation is broader than “is the word alcoholic outdated?” The entertainment industry exceedingly stigmatizes addiction and objectifies sufferers, for fun and profit: 

"I watched A&E’s Intervention on YouTube. Larry Peterson, CEO at Astoria Pointe treatment, is characterizing Ivan, who’s completed treatment, 'He’s faced his demons and the wreckage of his past. He’s done everything he can do on an in-patient basis.'

I switch to Episode One (2016); A&E depicts the story of ...'Jennifer: A young mother’s eating disorder has been a life-long affliction, now compounded by drug and sex addiction–but to get rid of her demons she’ll have to eliminate more than just her food'.”

I wanted to get Bohl’s feedback about these carefully chosen words the writers crafted. 

“‘Demons?’ Really? Is this the way we articulate a chronic, treatable brain disorder?” Bohl quipped.

“I went to A&E’s website just to see what they say because I have some notions about this. What jumped out at me was, ‘Each addict must confront their darkest demons, in order to begin their journey to recovery and turn their lives around before it’s too late!’ That’s the passion, the plea, the shaming that evokes emotions from the people they want to watch.

Demons? What happened to the medical language around the disease, or disorder, of addiction? This language ignores 20 years of exciting neuro-biological research and results. Addiction is a chronic brain disorder; in my opinion, that’s what it is.

Stigmatization remains the greatest barrier to people getting treatment and getting engaged. ‘You’re just a junkie, unworthy of medical care’—that’s the extreme, right? ‘You’re not deserving of these services or self-efficacy or being treated as a human first; look at your history,.” 

After we trashed TV's depiction of addiction, David B. Bohl (pictured) pointed me towards an American Psychiatric Association blog, Talking about Addiction: Language Matters (January 2017). Staff writers emphasize:

“Stigma about people with substance use disorders exists even among clinicians. One study found that even mental health professionals judged an individual identified as a substance abuser more harshly than an individual identified as having a substance use disorder. The language used about addiction reflects, and can perpetuate, negative perceptions about people with substance use disorders.”

The article emphasizes that we ought to:

“..Use person-first language, such as has been widely adopted for use with other conditions and disabilities, for example ‘person with substance use disorder’ (or replace with specific substance) rather than ‘substance abuser’ or ‘addict’ or ‘alcoholic'.” 

Personally, I’m desensitized by any stigma the word “alcoholic” may carry; I’ve been sober a while.

But, it’s not about me, is it? It’s about the still suffering. I’m convinced by the evidence that while “alcoholic” was an improvement over “dipsomaniac,” people—individuals impacted by addiction to alcohol and other drugs/processes, along with the healthcare professionals that serve us—can’t transcend our visceral, derogatory reactions to the stereotypes of problem-first language.

In the rooms, some members are already adapting how they self-identify. Maybe we’ve all heard, “My name’s Olga and I’m in long-term recovery.” The idea is to identify with the solution—not the stigmatized problem.

Another member says, “My name is _______ and I have alcoholism.” For him, while he still uses the stigmatized “A” word, it’s not who he is, it’s just one of many things that defines him. “My name is ______ and I’m an AA member,” is another that I’ve heard. 

No one is going to tell AA to change our name or forgo an age-old ritual of what we say before we share. But, if we want to change things—even our name—we can. Nothing is scared; nothing is forbidden. 

Bill W. wrote in the July 1965 Grapevine:

“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 A.A. 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.” 

Personally, the need for change has become apparent; so, what responsibility will I shoulder? I’m not going to petition the General Service Office. I’m not going to tell you what I think you should do. I’m going to do what I think I should do. 

I’m going to try changing the way I identify in the rooms. Others have already. The evidence suggests that it will benefit the still suffering. Why wouldn’t this old dog try new tricks, if only for other’s benefit? “My name’s Joe and I have alcohol use disorder.” That felt weird. I’ll keep trying. 

 

VISIT GENIUS RECOVERY:

Joe Polish & Dr. Gabor Maté VIDEO

Genius Recovery Video with Best-seller and editor, Anna David

Genius Recovery Video with Dr. Patrick Cares: Sex & Love Addiction

More blogs, stories and video on Genius Network

other links:

View the A&E Intervention episode "Ivan" that David B Bohl and Joe C discussed

View the A&E Intervention episode Jennifer that David B Bohl and Joe C discussed

David B Bohl's Parallel Universes: The Story of Rebirth

 

pics courtesy of circlerougestudios.com