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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.

Have your say at AA's USA/Canada Business Meeting. Click the pic for May's Rebellion Dogs Blog

PREVIEW APRIL's Rebellion Dogs Radio #45:

Preview April's Rebellion Dogs Radio #45: meet Emmy-winning PBS documentary film Bill W: The Creative Force Behind Alcoholics Anonymous (2012). We talk about the film. Both Dan and Kevin presented at AA History Symposium February 1-3, 2019 in San Altos. Jackie B is with us again talking about the future of History Symposium and the 10th anniversary of her first recovery play, In Our Own Words.

CLICK HERE (or CLICK the PIC) to listen, share and/or have your say.

 

 

March's Blog: Revisiting the musings of an AA legend; Physician Heal Thyself author, Dr. Earle M. Click to pick to follow the adventure. And remember; if you're going to San Francisco, be sure to wear some flowers in your hair...

 

The always suiting up, showing up AA tradition? Let's talk about the past and future of attire in 12-Step culture. It's like a trip down memory lane when you didn't legally have to wear a seat-belt and we smoked in AA meetings talking about wellness. READ IT HERE.

"The Debate Over Special Purpose Groups" from Symposium on AA History (San Francisco February 2, 2019). View the slides and listen to the audio with one click or visit our Rebellious Radio page for more details.

Rebellion Dogs February: Yesterday, Today and Tomorrow. From Symposium on AA History to our focus on Youth in Recovery and the future of Peer-2-Peer recovery.

Episode #43 of Rebellion Dogs Radio is an answer to the February Blues; how about February Twos? We have two authors, talking about two books + two music breaks, all in less than an hour... because it's a short month.

  • Jeffrey Munn is a therapist in Los Angeles County and knows a thing or two about the tastes of a new Generation. He has a new book for parents of tech/gaming addicted children but what we're talking about in this month's show is Staying Sober Without God: The Practical Steps to Long-Term Recovery form Alcoholism and Addiction
  • Also, what do you think you know about smoking pot today? If it's based on the memories you have like me, of the 1970s, today's youth are inhaling a very different animal.M. Andrew Tennison is also a child-welfare professional but he's talking today about his personal struggle and the book about it, Killing The Bear: Surviving Teen Addiction.

CLICK HERE FOR EPISODE 43

Jesse Beach rides (writes) again in #TheFix.com: the latest is a study about Generation-Z (the oldest of which, turn 20-years-old in 2019), what do they report about their  worldview? Do today's mutual-aid groups satisfy the taste of a new generation?.CLICK the PIC to read more...

Bob Kennedy has a little AA history in his blood. His mom and dad were three rows back at Maple Leaf Garden in Toronto in 1965 when Bill W took the stage to speak about AA's 30th anniversary/World Convention.

Fast forward 25 years: “It’s 1990; I was 40. I guess I looked like I needed it, so Dad gives me the AA pitch," Bob k tells us. "He said, ‘I don’t know if you’re an alcoholic but things aren’t going very well for you right now.’ Seeing that I wasn’t too receptive to the God-given-program angle, he never mentioned gods to me again. We just talked about the power of the rooms or whatever. Dad had the dark blue book with him that he left behind.

When you get 12-stepped by your own father that’s powerful, so I rushed to an AA meeting… nine months later. I thought I had more of a money problem than a drinking problem. So, I came in a year later.” Fast forward 15 more years: “Dad wanted nothing more than to attend my 15-year celebration. I would have loved to have him in the front row, saying ‘That’s my boy.’ But he wasn’t well. In 2006 my dad passed away, with 45 years of sobriety.”

I too am a second-gen AA member and my worldview wasn't the same as my parents Generation. Today's The Fix article by #JesseBeach looks the Generation Gap in 12-Step land the the greater recovery community.

We'll hear from Suwaida F: Born 1994 who will celebrate 5 months clean and sober as she turns 25-years-old. A younger millennial (Gen Y), Suwaida ought to identify with Gen-Z whose oldest members turn 20 this year. The oldes Gen-Zs are born in 1999. Barna Group just released a report on their survey of 13-18 year olds - our youngest AAs and other recovery community members. Barna's report said:

"For Gen Z, “atheist” is no longer a dirty word: The percentage of teens who identify as such is double that of the general population (13% vs. 6% of all adults)."

So we look at our recovery mutual-aid groups and evaluate their readiness to meet the taste of a new generation. We draw on help from Los Angeles county, the Milwaukee area and the Greater Toronto area to get some perspective. We hear from DON'T DIE Wisconsin Podcast's co-host and recovery coach, Kevin. David B. Bohl shares his experience with 19-25-year-olds in treatment and we chat with therapist Jeffrey Munn who just penned Staying Sober With Out God: The Practical 12 Steps to Long-Term Recovery from Alcoholism and Addiction (2018) about having had a practical (material) experience as a result of these Steps... Enjoy our first #TheFix contribution and as always, join the conversation - it's not a speech. CLICK 4 ThFIX

Joe C as a guest on other podcasts:

Citizen-journalism, Social Media investigative journalism - what would you call it. The Hidden Truth is a podcast that looks at a few of America's current and pressing social issues. One is addiction, treatment and the seeming reliance on the 12-Step model. Good skeptics are inquisitive and they listen and learn. In the fourth of an ongoing serial of podcasts, "AA Kills" - sensationalist title aside - attempts to take a critical look the broader addiction/recovery complex and the 12-Step theme that seems to dominate our current cultural norms.

So, host Jim Breslo and producer Michael Parker are skeptical and curious and they’re doing their homework. The Hidden Truth Podcast was very interested in the secular AA subculture and understandably curious about what’s different at agnostic/atheist meetings or gatherings and how we react to Big Book language like “made a decision to turn our wills and our lives over to God as we understand Him”.  The show’s research brought them to AA Beyond Belief and they talked to John. John called me and steered them my way; “You’re the Outreach Chair for Secular AA, you should talk to them.” So, time was booked to talk by the producer with the show host.

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) where they wrote:

“A.A. is so decentralized that in a very real sense, there really is no such single entity as “Alcoholics Anonymous”—only A.A. members and local A.A. groups that reflect a broad and ever-increasing variety of A.A. experience. To suggest that Alcoholics Anonymous represents a “one size fits all approach” to alcoholism recovery, as some critics are prone to do, ignores the actual rich diversity of A.A. experience in local A.A. groups and the diverse cultural, religious, and political contexts in which A.A. is flourishing internationally.”

Confused and frustrated, some with a casual knowledge of AA demand, “What is AA’s position on (this)?” or “Why doesn’t AA tell its members to (that)? Having no central authority, there is no universal creed, formula, nor opinions. Who do you “tell” in AA?

When I first started looking at the addiction treatment infrastructure, I had the same outrage that these journalists are affected by; “Why isn’t someone doing more?” “Why doesn’t everyone who asks for help, get the help they need and deserve?”

I think I was looking for a villain in my early research. Who’s holding AA back from progress; who’s getting rich off the back of vulnerable addicts?

Attending NAADAC (National Association for Addiction Professionals) and Canada's Recovery Capital Conference, I got some context and insight. I read (and understood what I could) about peer-reviewed studies; what I found was a lot of sincere people, doing what they can to relieve the suffering of others. Yes, there are empire-builders and snake-oil sales people and inefficiencies and bureaucracy that gets ahead of care. But the system, or the people in it live and learn and the system is adjusting it’s heading and trying to get better in their effort to save people from dying from addiction.

Here’s a simple question thrown at a constellation of nuances which is AA and addiction:

Is it true that only 5% of people who come to AA stay sober?

After all, Lance Dodes, in The Sober Truth, writes, “Peer-reviewed studies peg the success rate of AA somewhere between 5 and 10 percent.” Spontaneous remission (quitting on our own), Dodes points out has the same success rate.

That got my attention; was it true or a biased misreading of the evidence? Even if the 5-10% rate was true and I don’ think that because someone comes to meeting to check out AA, if they chose not to stay, AA has failed them or can be rejected as a modality. But anyway, the suggestion is people who came to AA would have gotten sober on their own without going (spontaneous remission). Dodes never statistically authenticates this premise but AA isn’t for those who spontaneously quit; why would they go to an AA meeting? AA is for those of us who have tried, and tried again, but couldn’t stay stopped.

AA’s success—whatever the real number of successes is—is on top of spontaneous remission. In other words, if 5-10% of problem drinkers quit and another 5-10% find help in AA, that’s 10-20% which, compared to getting people regulate their own diet/exercise for health benefits, isn’t anything to be ashamed of. The statistical challenges of reading AA success isn’t AA’s fault. And it's not the alcohol use disorder sufferer's fault either. So who's to blame? Or is fault-finding an oversimplification of a conundrum that has baffled us since we first crushed grapes and smoked herbs. Nevertheless, let's applaud any journalist that takes on the questions and is willing to do the work. Not all the facts are right. For instance, Joe C did not "start" Secular AA. It existed before most of us were born. These investigators are doing what they can to get it right and keep their own biases in check. It's a duty for AAs to stand and be counted when called up. It was a pleasure to not so much steer their discussion but to answer their questions, the best I can. 

Feel free to re-post or comment as you see fit. http://hiddentruthshow.com/aa-kills/aa-guest/

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.

There's a new Rebellion Dogs Radio show coming soon; I've been busy on other people's shows lately so I don't want to create Joe-fatigue (and I don't know if I mean I'm worried about you getting tired of me or me getting tired of too much of my own voice). I had this great, great chat with Bart Campolo - who's podcast is called, "Humanize Me!"

Bart was an preacher, following in his farther's ministry. But Bart is apostate; he lost his believe in intervening higher powers and the religious constructs that surround this faith. So now he preaches humanism and he offer's preacher-like counsel to seekers who hold a humanist - not a supernatural - view of the world. So I was stoked to talk to Bart - he has his own remarkable story. He has some concerns with/about AA. So thanks to John S. of AA Beyond Belief, Bart was directed to talk to me about his misgivings with AA. Not all of our chats are edited into this episode; it turns out Bart's been reading Beyond Belief: Agnostic Musings for 12 Step Life for a couple of years now. He grew up on daily devotionals but - like many of us - wanted something secular.CLICK the PIC to stream the show.

 

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/
 

 

What's New? Joe C's Author Page on Amazon.com. Rebellion Dogs welcomes critiques, comments, questions. Please have your say.CLICK HERE




 

 
The quasi-official hang out online for freethinkers in 12-Step recovery is AABeyondBelief.com & SECULARAA.org Please join up and lurk to your delight or join the conversation.

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

 


 

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Previous events

AA History Lovers Symposium

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El Retiro San Iñigo Retreat Center, 300 Manresa Way , Los Altos, CA 94022-4659

https://www.aahistorysymposium.org/

Researchers, archivists, documentations and even Rebellion Dogs, Joe C will be presenting interesting facts about AA History. Jackie B (Recovery Plays by Jackie B) says, "In developing an interest in AA history, I find that what we did wrong, is far more interesting and educational than patting ourselves on the back for what we got right."

NAADAC Annual Conference "Shoot for the Stars"

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The Westin Galleria Houston , 5060 West Alabama, Houston, TX

2:00 pm to 3:30 pm Sunday October 7th, No God, No Problem: Accommodating a growing demand for secular 12-Step facilitation.

this will be a presentation and participatory workshop for treatment center directors and addiction/recovery practitioners.

Beyond Belief: An Agnostic Journey through the 12 Steps and 12 Traditions

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Sedon Mago Retreat, 3500 E. Bill Gray Rd, Sedona, AZ

http://www.sedonamagoretreat.org/beyond-belief/ Bring a friend or loved one. This is an all inclusive weekend retreat at Sedona Mago Retreat in Arizona. We will be a small group, talking about 12 Steps & Traditions with a contemporary perspective. Today, atheists and agnostics get sober, just like we always have. Others, who hold an abstract view of a power greater than ourselves, don't feel authentic speaking of a male prayer answering, sobriety granting God of early 12-Step literature.

Our Traditions are part of history but AA (and other 12-Step) history is not something that happened way back when. Our history is unfolding around us, now. We owe it to ourselves to revisit this wisdom of the ages as it applies to our smart-phone/internet/millennial world.

Today, recovery is possible, the 12-Steps are accessible without accepting someone else's believes nor having to deny our own.

To working with today's newcomer is to work with alcoholics and addicts who come to us with a complex of worldviews and being able to converse in an agnostic language about Steps Two, Three, Five, Seven and Eleven allow us to do our share in "widening the gateway."

This won't be an atheist only echo-chamber of complaining about theism-dominated literature and meetings. Everyone is welcome, regardless of what we believe or do not believe. It's a no dogma, no right, no wrong discussion about our own journey. Believes and nonbelievers speak a slightly different language. Everyone ought to be encouraged to authentically apply 12-Step principles; we'll learn a few keys to meeting today's humanist, atheist, freethinker AA members where they live. One goal will be to leave Sedona better prepared to guide others through the process, regardless of what they do or do not believe.

This weekend is part of the Sednoa Mago Retreat Recovery Series devoted to renewal, relapse prevention, community and learning for those of us in the recovery community.

Joe C will moderate Beyond Belief: An agnostic journey through the 12 Steps & 12 Traditions which will combine prepared material, exercises and group discussion. Clean and sober 40 years, Joe wrote the first secular daily reflection book for addicts/alcoholics, Beyond Belief: Agnostic Musings for 12 Step Life.

Symposium on AA History

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Sedon Mago Retreat, 3500 E. Bill Gray Rd, Sedona, AZ

From $365 (all inclusive)

I'll be doing a presentation on the History of Unbelievers in AA including the growing demand for Atheist/Agnostic groups, 40 years of trying & failing to bring an atheist, freethinker pamphlet to AA literature tables and the inclusion of We Agnostics at AA's International Convention.

Other presentations will include Marty Mann, Lois Wilson, Charles Towns and a one-on-one with Rev. Ward Ewing. http://www.sedonamagoretreat.org/symposium-on-aa-history/ for more details.

An atheist and a theologian go on a 12 step call...

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Sedona Mago Retreat, Sedona AZ

BEYOND BELIEF: An atheist and a theologian go on a 12-Step call... programs@sedonamagoretreat.org 800.875.2256 928.204.3391 Beyond Belief author, Joe C. and bereavement counselor, John McAndrew, MDiv, former priest, Betty Ford-Hazelden Spiritual Care Director moderate a weekend discussion about 12-Step recovery from different worldviews. This isn't an atheism vs. theism debate; it's a celebration of the tapestry of recovery that honors a range of worldviews.

All inclusive: $389 shared room, $489 private room

May25

Book Expo America

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BEA in NYC, Javits Center, New York City

Bloggers Conference, Digital Media Expo, Authors, Distributors, Publishers Exhibition and Forum

$100.00 to 800.00

Talk Recovery 101.5 FM in Vancouver

http://www.coopradio.org/content/listen, Vancouver B.C., Canada

Noon PST, 3 PM EST, Joe C., author of Beyond Belief: Agnostic Musings for 12 Step Life is the guest on Talk Recovery on CO-OP Radio in Vancouver, 100.5 FM and/or www.coopradio.org/content/listen

Last Door Treatment hosts the weekly show and we've been a fan for some time, now.

Free

12 Step Language for the 21st Century

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Kiva Recovery , 935 Lakeview Parkway, Suite 101, Vernon Hills (Chicago) IL

RSVP: 855-777-5482

Joe C presents on changing demographics in North America (creed, race, language, worldview) and the evolution of the 12-Step language from 1939 AA to ACA, to Coda to 21st century fellowships like On-line Gamers Anonymous and Teen Addictions Anonymous. Expect a 30 minutes presentation and then Q & A and discussion.

Free

Rebellion Dogs Blog

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 

PDF of This BLOG CLICK CLICK

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. 

PDF of This BLOG CLICK CLICK

[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

 

Think Think Think: Recovery & Conflict Resolution 

Rebellion Dogs Blog, January 2018 

Your Best Thinking got you where!?!? Freethought, 12-Step Rooms and Conflict Resolution 

READ, VIEW OR DOWNLOAD AS A PDF CLICK HERE Online bullying led to the suicide of another youth. I was moved by what I read. It was an Australian child; of course, it could be anyone’s daughter or sister. In a striking reaction, the father invited the perpetrators to the funeral. I read on the BBC website: 

One in five children in Australia say they were bullied in the past year. 

In his emotional Facebook post, written on Sunday, Dolly's father, Tick Everett, gave no details of the bullying, but said she had wanted to "escape the evil in this world". 

He said he hoped the attention on Dolly's death last week might "help other precious lives from being lost". 

He also invited the bullies to her funeral, saying: "If by some chance the people who thought this was a joke and made themselves feel superior by the constant bullying and harassment see this post, please come to our service and witness the complete devastation you have created." 

On Wednesday, the family released a statement to media outlets saying Dolly had been "the kindest, caring, beautiful soul".[i] 

Wow. A lot of parents wouldn’t want the perpetrators anywhere near their grieving friends and family. In part, the dad wanted those who took his daughter to suffer from the loss, too. I see this not so much as revenge but an understanding (wisdom). In a corrupt system—as bullying is—everyone engaged in the corrupt system, victims, persecutors, enablers and rescuers are all controlled by the corrupt system. In an elaborate sense, everyone engaged in the system is corrupted, is victimized by the corruption. It’s natural to demonize the perpetrator and who can blame those who suffer for feeling angry or vengeful; full stop. Trauma and grief have stages and the perspective (and empathy) demonstrated by the suffering father, is remarkable. 

But this Australian father wants the corrupt system, that took his daughter, to end. He doesn’t want the system taking any more victims. That demands an understanding of the system; that asks the seemingly unthinkable—empathy for your perpetrator. Resolution requires truth and reconciliation. 

I can’t avoid a 12-Step slant; I didn’t learn everything I know in an AA meeting, but 12-Step culture intervened in my accelerating trip down a dead-end street. It gave me a chance to stop, to think, to breath and learn to think more better. I’ve been persecuted by injustice in my life. Also true is that I am a white male in a world that offers me privilege at the expense of others.

Example: Everyone In 12-Step communities have been discriminated against; there remains a persistent stigma foist upon we addicts. How many people with eating disorders have not been body-shamed?

Have you ever tried asking the pastor where your local AA meeting is or the facilities coordinator in the local library if you Sex and Love Addicts Anonymous group can meet there every week, maybe right after daycare, just before Palates? If you haven’t, can you imagine the fish-eye you might get from someone who’s also the landlord to parents and child-care professionals? Are sex and love addicts a bigger risk to toddlers than a random group from the public? I don’t know. But what do you think the general attitude is towards people with sexual compulsions looking for a place to hang out? 

Here’s a personal example: I’ve faced discrimination. As a youth—I was 14-years-of-age at my first meeting and sober by age 16—I had older members roll their eyes at me, dismissively. Also, as someone who is skeptical about the popular AA belief that a loving, intervening higher power is the agency to our sobriety, I have faced the typical suggestion that I am the one with a closed mind, I should save time (and my life) by seeing it their way. I’ve been told that my candidly expressed views could be damaging to impressionable newcomers. You know and I know that it’s wrong to treat minority atheists any differently than the majority theists but you and I also know it happens.

But for me, I walk out (or storm out—my choice) of that meeting and I’m a peer among peers on the streets. My beliefs or lack thereof are invisible to the crowd outside. Now let’s consider a woman in a meeting who expresses the injustice of AA literature that treats her as the second-sex who is told her feminism is an outside issue… She can storm or walk out of the meeting too, but she walks onto the streets of a city or town that still pays her $0.75 on the dollar for the same work a man does and where she’s inclined to be objectified and judged without even opening her mouth. A woman alcoholic’s suffering from systemic discrimination doesn’t end her victimhood when she rejects the meeting. So that’s very different than my predicament isn’t it? I walk out the door, leave discrimination behind and re-join privilege. 

Creating a better society requires thought and empathy and cooperation. I’d like to strike up a conversation about such things. The relationship with thinking and recovery is evolving. AA, of course had something to say about thinking and addiction—denial, distortion, rationalization, these are thinking traps that have led some to think of addicts as having a different brain than others, “That’s your addict’s brain taking there, boy.” I do find it remarkably powerful how, that while in addiction, with all the harmful consequences that ought to repel me from continued self-destruction, quite irrationally, I rationalize, minimize, postpone or avoid help and stay married the pay-off despite the diminishing returns and mounting consequences. It is hard for me to remember how compelling and habitual my own addictive cycle was. When I hear it, I relate to the idea that addiction seized control of the bridge (to borrow a Star Trek term) and I seemed powerless to help myself. Yes, that’s the same brain that I rely on to avoid temptation today, to make measured, healthy choices for myself, and to guide me to being a helpful member of my family, home-group and society at large. 

I’ve borrowed from author/brain scientist/addict Marc Lewis, Memoirs of an Addicted Brain: A Neuroscientist Examines His Former Life on Drugs & Doctor Vera Tarman, Food Junkies: The Truth About Food Addiction who have shared on Rebellion Dogs Radio about chemistry and science of a brain hijacked by addiction. Long before YouTube videos and Ted Talks about neuroscience and addiction, the idea of addiction distorting or circumventing brain functions had at least a metaphorical place in addiction/recovery talk. Here’s a clip of what we learn since 1939; this is now covered in the first week in treatment or easily accessible from browsing the web. We have a whole language around “your brain on drugs” now: 

"In the brain, pleasure has a distinct signature: the release of the neurotransmitter dopamine in the nucleus accumbens, a cluster of nerve cells lying underneath the cerebral cortex. Dopamine release in the nucleus accumbens is so consistently tied with pleasure that neuroscientists refer to the region as the brain’s pleasure center. All drugs of abuse, from nicotine to heroin, cause a particularly powerful surge of dopamine in the nucleus accumbens. … Addictive drugs provide a shortcut to the brain’s reward system by flooding the nucleus accumbens with dopamine. The hippocampus lays down memories of this rapid sense of satisfaction, and the amygdala creates a conditioned response to certain stimuli. …According to the current theory about addiction, dopamine interacts with another neurotransmitter, glutamate, to take over the brain’s system of reward-related learning. This system has an important role in sustaining life because it links activities needed for human survival (such as eating and sex) with pleasure and reward. The reward circuit in the brain includes areas involved with motivation and memory as well as with pleasure. Addictive substances and behaviors stimulate the same circuit—and then overload it.”[ii] 

Our addiction/recovery community’s understanding of thinking and recovery evolves. By the time Alcoholics Anonymous was written, we had slogans, folk-therapy to help reconceptualization in early recovery, which in today’s language is in part the “cognitive” component of Cognitive Behavioral Therapy. Let’s talk for a moment about what might be my favorite AA slogan: 

“Think, Think, Think…” Show me another AA slogan that doesn’t get the respect it deserves. Everyone loves, “Easy Does It,” and “Live and Let Live.” I’ve seen sober club houses that hang “Think, Think, Think” upside down. What is that supposed to mean? Meditation isn’t Step One in AA so perhaps it’s a more advanced tool in the kit than, “First Things First.” 

On the other hand, some of our members have reduced AA’s creed into bumper-sticker rebuttals. One member who quotes the Big Book is contradicted by another member quoting the Big Book, both borrowing an authority that neither the book nor its author(s) laid claim to. Have you seen the Monty Python’s Flying Circus skit called “Cheese Shop?”[iii] Fans of the comedy troop have made up a Cheese Shop game from this skits premise. Here’s how the game works: player 1 is buyer. you come up with a type/brand of cheese. Player 2 is the shopkeeper; you come up with a new excuse why that cheese isn’t available, today. Whoever runs out of cheese varieties or excuses first, loses. AA members could bet each other a second cup by seeing who runs out of AA slogans first. Sounds like fun? Try it with a friend. Someone’s buying coffee refills; maybe it won’t be you. 

From meetings like these—that most of us know where to find—whereby members spout out AA platitudes as keepers of the holy grail, some critics of AAism label AA as anti-intellectual. This characterization asserts that members who gather together to gang up on freethought with a bludgeoning of well intended, yet out-of-context quotes from the book Alcoholics Anonymous is disparaging towards a more individualized approach to recovery. This could be a CA meeting, an AA meeting and of course some NA bleeding deacons delight in wielding Basic Text quotes with the same smack down insensitivity towards neophytes or NA titan vs. NA titan. 

How many AA slogans are there? Some would say, “Three, because the Big Book says so:” 

We have three little mottos (p 135, Alcoholics Anonymous “The Family Afterward”) which are apropos: 

First Things First 

Live and Let Live 

Easy Does It.

Others would say, “Five,” because GSO has added two to your AA Literature Catalogue. Look up specialty item, MS04 Slogans (Set of 5) $4.50. Along with the three slogans mentioned above, we AAs added: 

But for the Grace of God 

Think, Think, Think 

These two additions, viewed with the hindsight of today’s polarized society, do these two add-ons seem to have evolved from two diametrically opposing camps in the rooms of AA? In today’s context, “God” and “thinking” seem to some people to be juxtaposed coping mechanisms. But going back to the meetings I attended in mid-1970s indoctrination into AA, these five slogans in their AA stylized letterings and humble frames, hanging on a wall, this is what I see when I close my eyes and think, “What does an AA meeting look like?” Not only were these five mottos ubiquitous in the day, I remember them as yellowed—they had been there for a long while before I got there. 

So, who wins the “how many slogans are there, officially” debate? 

In 1980 the General Service Conference looked to resolve this issue and the Literature Committee was recommending that defining “the slogans” be added to As Bill Sees It. The Conference said, “No.” Why? Here was the thinking at the time: 

The suggestion to add to the book As Bill Sees It a definition of the slogans not be accepted because it was felt that the slogans may be defined in many different ways.” Advisory Actions of the General Service Conference of Alcoholics Anonymous 1951 – 2012, p. 69 

So, back to thinking… Here’s one of the great misunderstandings of AA platitude-nation: “Your best thinking got you here.”

The suggestion is that you ought to not rely on your reasoning because, “Now, now, didn’t your best thinking fail you, delivering you and your compromised situation to the doorway and then a chair inside a 12-Step meeting?” 

Don’t trust your thinking; get a second opinion, trust the group, trust Yahweh as you understand Him

Fact checking: It wasn’t my best thinking that led me from indulgence to addiction and the risky, reckless life that necessitated some form of intervention. It was my impulsive thinking, not my best thinking whereby my addiction thrived and me—not so much in the thriving department. My life was nearly snuffed out. Impulsive thinking is to be avoided; “best thinking” is something to strive towards, something to cultivate. 

Deep thoughts… addicts write about thinking and mind: 

I interviewed Jack Grisham about his book, A Principle of Recovery. If you haven’t already heard the show, there’s a link below (You’ll also find interviews with Marc Lewis and Dr. Vera Tarman mentioned above). 

As a totally unrelated aside, inside this “thinking” aside, around the 18-minute mark of the podcast, Rebellion Dogs Radio Episode 19, you’ll hear Jack G and me talking—I am in the home studio of Rebellion Dogs and Jack is heard calling in from Huntington Beach California over the phone—and you’ll hear my call-waiting notice (from my phone) go off. I didn’t take the message, of course. I continued on with our discussion. It was bad news. It was the Royal Canadian Mounted Police calling from Saskatchewan to notify me that my mom had died. It was October 28, 2015 that I interviewed Jack Grisham. Every time I hear that recording and that call-waiting tone sounds off, I think of my mom. My mom’s a writer, too. She is also one of the two editors I relied on for Beyond Belief: Agnostic Musings for 12 Step Life. Amelia C, Beyond Belief Agnostics & Freethinker's AA Group (Toronto)'s current serving General Service Rep. That “beep, beep,” gets me every time. It got me now. Anyway, back to Jack. 

Jack Grisham who has a Punk Rock something to say about a good many things, doesn’t shy away from thinking and AA. In fact, he makes a pretty good case to rebut those, “Your best thinking…” automatons. Jack, like many of us, points to the supreme leader and his Big Book for validation. 

“… we’ve awakened, we’ve become aware that a life based on selfish will is one of pain and strife. Our thinking has changed—maybe only slightly as we are still new, but it’s changed enough to move forward. We’ve had an awakening and been given a new mind and now, a new way of thinking. On pg. 86, Bill hits us with this: 

‘On awakening let us think about the twenty-four hours ahead. We consider our plans for the day. Before we begin, we ask God to direct our thinking, especially asking that it be divorced from self-pity, dishonesty or self-seeking motives. Under these conditions we can employ our mental faculties with assurances, for after all God gave us brains to use. Our thought-life will be placed on a much higher plane when our thinking is cleared of wrong motives.’ 

Seven times he asks us to think. Seven times, in one paragraph—read it. If I turned a paragraph like that into an editor I’d be called up on redundancy. Bill seemingly didn’t care. He wanted to develop our thinking…” Jack Grisham, A Principle of Recovery: An Unconventional Journey Through The Twelve Steps (2015)[iv] p. 133 

Jack Grisham 2016 Rebellion Dogs Book Review in Renew Magazine[v] 

Jack Grisham as Guest on Rebellion Dogs Radio Episode 19[vi] 

So, these 12-Step members, who liberals might call anti-intellectual, can they also find confirmation for their biases in the Bill Wilson words on page 86? First, the bolding in the Big Book quote above is Jack G’s highlights (bolded in the pages of A Principle of Recovery). I am sure that some Big Book zealots don’t find thinking to be repulsive or counterproductive to sobriety, what about some of the others who see the devil holding court in the playground of alcoholic’s thoughts? 

If there is a class of members we dare look down at as anti-intellectual, they would highlight their own choice words and phrases. It’s just as easy to downplay the pro-thinking ideas. The same page 86 passage also says, “we ask God to direct our thinking (we don’t rely on our free will)” and that the brain we have is a gift from God. This argument pits God’s will as diametrically opposed to the alcoholic’s self-will. Most believers wouldn’t see freethought disciplining our self-will to serve us better as demonic, blasphemous or un-AA. Members who characterize the thinking alcoholic as on a slippery slope are a minority (not a majority), a vocal minority who might hold themselves out as representing AA as a whole.

I don’t think so. Do you?

Worth noting, various AAs with various worldviews have found success in AA. Skeptics, zealots and every variety of belief-construct and IQ score have the miracle (or cause and effect) of AA to prove they’re right. Many are the paths from addiction to recover, in AA meetings and in the ever-growing larger recovery community beyond 12-Step meeting walls. 

The Refuge Recovery approach to thoughts is a holistic one. While addicts have a proclivity to impulsive thought and snap judgement such as, “What a lucky break!” or “This is the worst luck!” the whole point of recovery is to learn better coping strategies. Noah Levine writes about “intentional nonreactivity” and in a chapter on Mindfulness/Meditation, we’ll find: 

Rather than reacting with our usual attachment or aversion, taking everything personally and felling the need to do something about it, we relax into the experience, seeing it clearly and simply letting it be, just as it is. 

This is important on two levels. First, we become intimate with our mind states and with how they affect our mood and actions. Second, we begin to see more and more clearly that states of mind and emotions, like everything else, are impermanent.” Noah Levine, Refuge Recovery: A Buddhist Path to Recovering from Addiction (2014)[vii] p 81 

So, the think, think, think idea or mindfulness is about first, taking a more scientific or critical or even curious look at our thoughts (along with feelings and sensations). Instead of impulsive reaction, I’ve learned to ask if what I’m observing is as it appears, what else could it mean, why do I see it as either good or bad? Secondly, as Noah Levine suggests, I remind myself that feeling are not facts; I think of them as indicator lights. How I feel may change. Sometimes a wider view, including what might be going on for others in the scene, may lend some context. 

Here is personal example of how exercising mindfulness, problem solving and/or thinking situations through, is something that I’ve learned to do better, thanks in part to what I’ve learned in the rooms. This is a small, interpersonal issue but I hope that dealing with this better, can help me with more global issues than this petty personality clash. 

It bugs my ass when someone starts to share with, “What you need to do, if you’re going to stay sober, is…” 

I don’t want to be told what to do; I don’ think 12-Step meetings have teachers and students; we are equals, we are peer-to-peer. So, anyone who sounds like they are instructing, intimidating or dominating, I get my nose out of joint. “Tell your own experience,” I think. “AA has no expertise, we merely have our individual experiences.” 

I sometimes get just as bent out of shape with “We” talk; “We, in our turn, sought the same escape with all the desperation of drowning men,” “We will be amazed before we are half way through…” The nice thing about talking in we-authorship is it includes, or aims to include, the reader with the larger group. Isolation is a common problem for newcomers to recovery. Addiction is a demanding mistress and many have suffered a loss of intimacy as we isolate and deny, lie & minimize when it comes to talking to others. So, it’s good to try to, or want to, make the reader (or another member) feel included. The downside to a narrative like, “We stood at the turning point…” is that some readers will surmise, and even promulgate the erroneous idea, that we have some universal experience. The idea that we are the same, we are having a collective experience, is not true at all. I believe we may be a fellowship of common suffering. That said, while the labels are the same—fear, shame, self-loathing, resentment, self-pity—the particulars remain unique and individual (not universal).

Recovery is a pathless land; no two members share the same clean/sober path. No two people who follow the same suggestions find identical results. Similar themes? Yes. Identical needs, process or results? No. 

Utilizing Mindfulness Where Reactiveness Comes So Naturally 

Here’s how mindfulness or “intentional nonreactivity” helps me. So, let’s say a member at a meeting starts sharing with “We” or “You;” I feel hostility—a knee-jerk reaction. Could there be a difference between the way this member is expressing themselves and the message meant from her/him/them? Assuming I catch myself, I picture this person sharing their own personal experience through the lens of their own biased explanation. That’s the message, regardless of pronouns. Members might use the word, “You,” or “We” but they mean I or me. Could it just be a language thing and have nothing to do with them presuming to teach newcomers? Can I interpret what she/he/they are saying instead of getting hostile or defensive? Isn’t it fair to say that what’s being said is, “This is what worked for me and I really feel strongly about it.” 

So, I can let the We/You thing go or I can cross my arms and clench my teeth. Those are my choices, aren’t they? If I overlook the pronouns and finger-pointing, maybe there are some take-aways from what my fellow traveler is sharing that I can benefit from. And maybe I don’t care for or relate to what is said; is it possible that someone else will be helped to stay sober another day by what they have to say? 

Then, there’s how I get touchy about some 12-Step literature, AA’s Big Book for instance. Personally, there are principles I support underneath the wording I am sometimes disproving of, within AA’s Twelve Steps. Letting go is just as effective as Letting go and letting God—that’s not two separate ideas, one is secular and one is religious. But it’s the same principle. As for our Steps and any benefits they yield; are they only accessible for theists? Or were the Steps, back in 1939 written by theists in the native tongue of theists at the time? The underlying principles transcend a belief in supernatural guidance in the lives of women and men. Because the explanation of the Steps—in Alcoholics Anonymous—is written in Judeo/Christian language will I protest about inequality, or shall I translate them in the language of my worldview? Everyone has to translate something in the Big Book to personalize the narrative. If and when I’m attending a meeting that reads or refers to the book, I have the right to interpret any way I want, or go to a different meeting. 

I want to make a distinction, here. AA is discriminatory. Having a book that members tout as the “basic text” of the AA way which is blatantly theistic, favors those who believe in a personal higher power. As long AA stays stuck in a 1939 explanation of the world, which cared little for anywhere or anyone beyond the Ohio—New York corridor that made up our membership, we’ll appear naïve or arrogant to many religious adherents from the rest of the world. Imagine how AA founders might have felt if they were sent to a mosque to find their sobriety. “Keep an open mind; Allah of your understanding; don’t be argumentative; If you’ve had enough of booze, you’ll kneel to the East and praise Allah.” 

To a feminist, youth or member of the LGBTQ community, there are greater barriers in Alcoholics Anonymous than to a white, middle-class, middle-aged, heterosexual man. Suggestions for modernization of AA language (including the 164 pages of the Big Book) may go unheard or be met with hostility. While a gender identifying/sexual-orientation/de-stigmatizing/creed and culture neutral language would clearly be fair, and I argue, more effective to AA’s sworn purpose, the tyranny of the majority is an unyielding opposition that is arguably, evidence of AA systemic discrimination. I am against such discrimination. For the sake of the fellowship and in terms of standing up for my own rights, I oppose such discrimination.

In the recent Ontario Human Rights case (Larry K vs. Intergroup & AA World Services), we learned that failing to accommodate members based on creed (just like sexual orientation, gender, disability, race and other identified characteristics) is a violation of the law. We are protected by and bound by the Human Rights Code. I am for the law; I am for fairness. When confronted by the tribunal, AA yielded. Other than the legal fees and hurt pride from kicking up a fight and losing, AA really didn’t lose. Other groups or AA as a whole, the imaginary victim that anti-atheist AA’s claimed to defend, never suffered the imaginary injury or indignity projected by a rigid, rule-making Intergroup 

If it came down to a vote, I would vote for a newly written Alcoholics Anonymous, written with modern, culturally inclusive wording. Add a newer “Doctor’s Opinion” while we’re at it, along with psychological and therapeutic updates. So, when the vote comes up, let me know. In the meantime, I have a choice every day to voice dissatisfaction with what is read and/or interpret accordingly. 

Thinking more about this of course, I can ignore the Big Book completely and have a perfectly happy AA life. No one checks AA member’s homework. I am sure there is a larger percent of membership than we think who never worked the Steps to didn’t complete them. Not every member has read Alcoholics Anonymous and the 12 & 12 in their entirety. I certainly know plenty who have candidly dismissed the Steps along with any form of psycho-babble navel gazing. Others still want a thorough self-assessment but there are more therapeutic options now than ever before. 

So, if I feel strongly about our literature being discriminatory, why not rail against those who demonstrate this harassment and discrimination? To do so is to personalize the complaint. The problem is a corrupt system. Even those who protect it and/or are entitled from it are also victimized by this corrupt system or limited or controlled by it. To fault people for finding comfort in the theistic view of recovery dripping with early 20th century outdatedness isn’t helpful. That isn’t in any way, solution-based. I need—we need—the majority (who do relate to the 164 pages, as written) on our side to right a ship that is veering off course. AA intended to be a refuge for everyone. In the context of mid-20th century middle America, AA did welcome everyone—all the white hetro guys. Seriously, it was a different time then and I argue that AA was ahead of our time in terms of accommodating anyone who had a desire to stop drinking. 

Some of our literature and some of our meeting rituals have not changed with the times. We’ve discussed the nature of AA literature before. Our literature is sub-standard because it is sexist, hetro-normative, theistically biased, American-centric, etc. Again, I’m for following AAs principles of inclusion, love, service. I’m for laws such as the Human Rights Code in Canada and civil, rights enshrined in the Constitution of the United States of America and UK’s Equity and Human Rights Commission. Every developed world has their code; the United Nations Declaration of Human Rights says: 

All human beings are born free and equal in dignity and rights. They are endowed with reason and conscience and should act towards one another in a spirit of brotherhood. Everyone is entitled to all the rights and freedoms set forth in this Declaration, without distinction of any kind, such as race, color, sex, language, religion, political or other opinion, national or social origin, property, birth or other status.”[viii] 

I find something poetic and profound with the3ThinKs: looking at Think, Think, Think hanging on the AA meeting wall. I struggle with: 

  1. my impulse thoughts 
  2. how I think I ought to feel and 
  3. how I really think and feel about something. 

Then there is the question of what others need, think, feel and what impact do I have on their rights? Often tribunals in domestic matters or diplomats in international matters, navigate competing needs. How does one individual or group’s right get elevated without impinging on the rights of another? 

For women to vote the support of men was needed. USA civil rights required the advocacy of the white majority. For change to take place the system ought to be demonized; not the benefactors of such injustices. Tyranny of the majority presents challenges. How does a minority or individual overcome an angry, frightened, hasty or indifferent majority? Since 1975, atheists and agnostics have lobbied the General Service Office of USA/Canada for a pamphlet; you’re likely aware this petition will be heard once again in April of 2018. The trustees’ Literature Committee has already begun preparations. Over ten times this benign request has been entertained by previous committees and it’s always been denied. Was it fear? Haste? Indifference? Ignorance? Hostility? I don’t know; that never makes it into the General Service Conference Final Report that is available to all AA members to read. Only the outcome of advisory actions, financial data and edited versions of speeches and reports are printed or reported. 

Who’s seen any of the latest David Chappelle routines?

In a comedy club in LA, Chappelle gets real; that’s how he describes it; others would say he offended everyone. He talks about oppression, discrimination, Black Lives Matter and Me Too headlines. American football player Colin Kaepernick’s protest movement against police brutality merits a shout-out. USA civil rights, the #MeToo movement and Apartheid are all discussed. Trigger alert: Many have been offended or incensed by Chappelle’s critique of group-think (political correctness), public outrage and issues that any audience would surely line up on one side or the off these topics. Many comics would stay the hell away from this hot-politico. 

Neither for nor against, here are some uncensored highlights from Chappelle’s latest—and maybe last for a long time (depending on how it goes for him): 

Every fucking person who takes a stand for someone else gets beat down and we watch, over and over and over again and we watch. … We should fight for one another… real talk, man. It’s not a racial thing; it’s about us making our society better. It’s like these women who are coming forward (Me Too); we say they’re brave and many of them are … That’s a huge omission from the narrative; this wouldn’t have gone as far if some women weren’t willing to do it. You can’t expect every woman to hold the line. Some women can carry things heavier than others. We should fight for one another; we should forgive the ones who are weaker and support the ones who are stronger. Then we can beat the thing. 

You [guys] keep going after individuals; the system is going to stay intact. You have to have men on your side. I’m telling you right now; you’re going to have a lot of imperfect allies. 

Ladies, I want you to win this fight. I’ve got a daughter so I’m rooting for you; if you win she wins. I don’t know if you’re doing it just right but who am I to say. I don’t think you’re wrong, but you can’t make a lasting peace this way. You got all the bad guys scared; that’s good. But the minute they’re not scared anymore it will get worse than it was before. Fear does not make lasting peace; ask black people. 

Without irony, I’ll say this: the cure for L.A. is in South Africa. You motherfuckers need truth and reconciliation with one another. The end of apartheid should have been a fucking bloodbath by any metric in human history, and it wasn’t. The only reason it wasn’t is because Desmond Tutu and [Nelson] Mandela and all these guys figured out that if a system is corrupt, then the people who adhere to the system, and are incentivized by that system, are not criminals. They are victims. The system itself must be tried. But because of how the system works, it’s so compartmentalized as far as information, the only way we can figure out what the system is, is if everyone says what they did; tell them how you participated.” Dave Chappelle, E-qua-nim-i-ty & the bird revelation Nexflix (2017) 

The front cover to summary of the Final Report of the Truth and Reconciliation Commission of Canada[ix], in block letters, reads: 

Honouring the Truth, Reconciling for the Future” 

This is the 2015 report on a 100-year lasting residential school program that targeted indigenous youth, separating them from family culture and indoctrinating children into the legally dominant Euro-Christian society. Within the report, 6,000 victim testimonies are heard including cases of sexual, physical and emotional abuse. Truthing was intended not to shame and blame. As a nation that prided ourselves on a reputation of democracy, peace and kindness, we—the majority—had to take our own inventory and hear from those we had harmed. Those who had been discriminated against, harassed, abused and dehumanized, needed to be heard. The aim of honoring truth was in aid of reconciliation. 

I attended the 2017 Indigenous Health Practice and Research Conference in Hamilton, Canada. One of the speakers, a York University professor, Maya Chacaby[x] said something that sounded both poetic and profound to me. She is Anishinaabe, Beaver Clan from Kaministiquia (Thunder Bay, Canada) and she refers to Canadians in two categories: indigenous and settlers. What can settlers do who care about truth and reconciliation?

Maya Chacaby says, “Get un-settled.” True-that; confronting my own privilege and the historical oppressive context of it is … unsettling. I have committed to trying to mindfully be more un-settled. 

Honoring the truth and reconciling is akin to taking inventory and making amends? These are also good themes for group inventory (or fellowship-wide inventory) and how to right wrongs and/or improve our society. We need to unabashedly record and face truth, as victims and perpetrators of harms done to us, to ourselves and to others. Recovery peer-to-peer programs aim to make a better future—we embody a program of action. A better future, as far as I’m concerned involves thinking globally and acting locally. I’m an atheist in AA. Yes, I welcome an AA whereby literature better addresses underrepresented minorities. I will lobby for this. Also, what can I do, in my home group, in my larger 12-Step community, in my own way, taking into consideration my skills and limits? Not every improvement requires consensus or waiting around for others. 

David Chappelle reflected on South Africa overcoming Apartheid without revenge upon the ruling white class. Would I be happy to see the dawn of a new, inclusive 12-Step community without calling out those who have promulgated our systemically discriminatory ways? Yes, I am. It helps to see them as—in a way—victims—or controlled by—the same oppressive system. What enjoyment can there be from fear-based stewardship that stifles any attempt to try something different? In an unfair, unbalanced system like AA, it’s not like there is financial reward for being a Big Book fundamentalist. There is no 1% because there is no wealth. Winning—if there are winners and losers of a dysfunctional system, doesn’t look like what I think of as winning. 

Examples of a fellowship, refusing or avoiding accommodation of reasonable requests from minorities, sets a course for reification, a hardening of the attitudes leading to our own self-engineered extinction. Many would blame outside forces for our demise but only our own intolerance and unwillingness would be to blame for our downfall.

Old-fashioned AA and Tradition-talk includes, unity. What does unity mean in our increasingly multicultural, label-resisting society? I think, think, think unity is best achieved by accommodation. Our current system, from the group to our General Service Conference, requires the many to give their blessing to the few. The literately-challenged can’t have a simplified Big Book without the approval of those who will never read or need the book. A contemporary title for the Gay and Lesbian AA pamphlet requires the cooperation of the hetro-normative majority. Maybe, I think, think, think it would be better to try a policy of accommodation where decisions-by-substantial-unanimity have held us back. 

Human Rights Tribunals favor requests for accommodation when asked. The exception would be when granting them causes undue hardship to the larger society. Yes, there will be time, expense and growing pains to any accommodation. While that’s hardship, is the not the kind undue hardship that would bankrupt or render an organization dysfunctional.

In AA for instance, following the General Service Conference in April, every new advisory action costs money and takes time away from limited staff and volunteers already doing their share. So, if change for the better costs money and takes time, that’s not undue hardship; that’s simply the price we pay for progress. There should be hardship when it comes to bettering AA. Any claim of undue hardship ought to hold the onus of proof. 

For example, the plain-text request for an easy-reading Big Book would have cost money and taken time. That isn’t undue hardship. I am inclined to believe that this request was denied because of fear—not a fear about what would happen but a catastrophizing of what could happen, “If we make changes for this group then the women and the trans-genders and the atheists will all want changes and our message will be lost.” 

Accommodation will change the way things are. “But it’s always been this way,” is a poor excuse to not grow, improve and widen our gateway.

Why fear change? There is no basis for slippery slope (or opening the flood-gate) arguments for not accommodating most requests made of 12-Step fellowships coming from underrepresented minorities. Remember one of the objections to listing Gay/Lesbian meetings? “If we start listing these meeting what’s next—child molester AA meetings?” 

The anger and polarization that this catastrophizing brought, delayed the agenda for a whole year. That argument wouldn’t be entertained or have derailed the Conference in an accommodation model. Accommodation would have proceeded this way: “We’ll allow the Gay/Lesbian group to hold themselves out as such. Then, if—and we mean if—an AA meeting for child molesters asks to be so-identified, we’ll deal with that at the time.” 

Slippery slope arguments are not rational; they are raised from hidden emotional catastrophizing. To use 12-Step folk-language, “That’s your disease talking there buddy. Turn it over; Easy does it.” 

"Since my release, I have become more convinced than ever that the real makers of history are the ordinary men and women of our country; their participation in every decision about the future is the only guarantee of true democracy and freedom." Nelson Mandela 1990. The Struggle is My Life 

The struggle is our life. I’ve heard some say, “the struggle and hardship IS the spiritual journey.” Archbishop Desmond Tutu was the chairman of South Africa’s Truth and Reconciliation Commission (TRC) which was created by Nelson Mandela’s Government of National Unity in 1995 to help South Africans come to terms with their extremely troubled past. Archbishop Desmond Tutu was the chairman of South Africa’s TRC in this is his guidance on forgiveness, informed I’m sure by his own personal story. 

To forgive is not just to be altruistic. It is the best form of self-interest. It is also a process that does not exclude hatred and anger. These emotions are all part of being human. You should never hate yourself for hating others who do terrible things: the depth of your love is shown by the extent of your anger. 

However, when I talk of forgiveness I mean the belief that you can come out the other side a better person. A better person than the one being consumed by anger and hatred. Remaining in that state locks you in a state of victimhood, making you almost dependent on the perpetrator. If you can find it in yourself to forgive then you are no longer chained to the perpetrator. You can move on, and you can even help the perpetrator to become a better person too.”[xi] 

The examples are out there. I’ve seen an unfortunate inclination for AA to look only to our own history for clues; how limiting. Learning from others is not—I don’t think—an outside issue. As Uncle Bill W thought, thought, thought, with over 20 years of sobriety: 

“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.” 

Thanks, thanks, thanks, Bill W. We’ll try to keep your pioneering ways alive in AA. 

[i] http://www.bbc.com/news/world-australia-42631208 

[ii] https://www.helpguide.org/harvard/how-addiction-hijacks-the-brain.htm 

[iii] Based on a Monty Python sketch Cheese Shop, a purchaser enters a Cheese Shop and asks for various cheeses only to be disappointed by various excuses as to why that cheese type isn’t available in the store today. Some people – Maybe even Monty Python’s Flying Circus in book form—have turned the skit into a game of skill. Who will run out first, the customer listing cheese types or the shop owner coming up with original excuses. The original skit was performed in audio and TV forms. Here is one: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=B3KBuQHHKx0 

[iv] https://www.amazon.com/Principle-Recovery-Unconventional-Journey-Through/dp/0692520538/ref=as_sl_pc_ss_til?tag=rebeldogspubl-20&linkCode=w00&linkId=HBEMLVACQRECWHDK&creativeASIN=0692520538 

[v] http://www.reneweveryday.com/principles-of-recovery-from-the-punk-rock-pulpit/ 

[vi] https://rebelliondogspublishing.com/rebellious-radio/blog/a-book-a-priciple-of-recovery-a-comedy-show-sober-but-never-clean 

[vii] https://www.amazon.com/Refuge-Recovery-Buddhist-Recovering-Addiction/dp/0062122843/ref=as_sl_pc_ss_til?tag=rebeldogspubl-20&linkCode=w00&linkId=7MMQGES2X2DE72X5&creativeASIN=0062122843 

[viii] http://www.un.org/en/universal-declaration-human-rights/index.html 

[ix]http://www.trc.ca/websites/trcinstitution/File/2015/Honouring_the_Truth_Reconciling_for_the_Future_July_23_2015.pdf 

[x] Maya Chacaby http://www.amikobiin.com/ 

[xi] http://theforgivenessproject.com/stories/desmond-tutu-south-Africa/

After AA: Stories of people who graduate 12-Step rooms 

Download or view PDF Many Paths and Many Myths about AA Graduates

This May, Steve K posted an essay by Lisa Martinovic on 12StepPhilosophy blog. Lisa shares wise words about “neuroplasticity … the phenomenon by which the brain changes itself through experience. It does so by strengthening the neural connections (synapses) associated with a particular course of action every time we take that course.” This is important in understanding addiction and recovery...

But that’s not what I’m writing about. Lisa Martinovic shares her story about “graduating” 12-Step meetings--a phenomenon more popular than we 12-Steppers know. We should talk about more, understand the various paths of recovery more. What really happens to all those who leave 12-Step meetings? 

People once believed our world was flat. If you lived on the coast you would be told that when you looked to the horizon you were seeing the end of the world. Anyone who sailed past the horizon, out of view, fell off the earth; so we would be told. Do you and I tell the same fables about people who stop going to meetings? True enough, the tragic and familiar relapse stories that we hear often, start with complacency, disconnection and then, boom! Disaster strikes. I would have to wager that all of us, sober ten years or more, knows someone who got on with their life without meetings and is still fine. What are the numbers? What are the chances? Is there myth-busting that is needed to clear up misconceptions? We are well-served to understand recovery more broadly. Some of us feel that maintaining this "every slip starts with not going to meetings" is a necessary negative reinforcement that is keeping people alive, keeps drunks from sailing over the edge of the earth. I do not share that view.

Not everyone who stops meetings will get very sick and die. Yes, some relapses have a starting point that included reducing/stopping going to meetings. I’m not going to quit meetings any more than I’m going to stop exercising. I don’t know for sure that either activities extend the length of my life, but exercise as well as attending recovery gatherings are enjoyable parts of a balanced life. I like recovery and I’m still learning at meetings. 

I don’t feel confined to 12-Step rooms. AA, NA (etc.) meetings is more to me than somewhere for sober people to gather where people remember my name. Recovery, for me, is entertaining, social, rewarding and educational. 

So, we hear the relapse horror stories. What we hear less about is that many rich and remarkable lives start with freeing up the time and commitment that are taken up by meetings and 12-Step service. At least, we don’t hear about it in meetings. Since I’ve been a consumer of podcasts and blogs and other peer-to-peer content, I hear how these stories of transcending meeting/sponsor/service-dependency. While we don’t have a pamphlet on the literature table about life after meetings, is this not a legitimate track for successful recovery?

Some leave AA angry or frustrated. True, that. Sometimes the loudest in the room are the anti-social, cantankerous bullies that seemingly raise their self-image by crushing others instead of encouraging their new, or long-term recovery fellows. So, I understand that there comes a time when AA meetings are more re-traumatizing than helpful for any of us who've been abused. 

The site leavingaa.com is a community for recover from recovery. The 12-Step are not a sanctuary away from predators who sexually, financially or emotionally prey on the vulnerable. Sharply critical of AA’s laissez faire resistance to a central authority, outrage is voiced that AA doesn't impose and enforce rules. Why won't GSO directs and discipline members or groups? This heated criticism/concern is felt on-line, in magazines and in the rooms, too. 

Hot off the press (September 2017), the General Service Office of AA published, Safety Card for A.A. Groups: Suggested Statement on Safety which states: 

“Our group endeavors to provide a safe meeting place for all attendees and encourages each person here to contribute to fostering a secure and welcoming environment in which our meetings can take place. … we ask that group members and others refrain from any behavior which might compromise another person’s safety. 

…If a situation should arise where someone feels their safety is in jeopardy, or the situation breaches the law, the individuals involved should take appropriate action. Calling the proper authorities does not go against any A.A. Traditions and is recommended when someone may have broken the law or endangered the safety of another person. … problems found in the outside world can also make their way into the rooms of A.A. For this reason, groups and members discuss the topic of safety—to raise awareness in the Fellowship and to seek through sponsorship, workshops and meetings to create as safe an environment as possible.”[1] 

I’ve worked through some issues of my own. As a young person I faced periodic dismissiveness. As someone who declines dependence on a deity for my own recovery, I have faced discrimination and hostility. There have been periods of time I didn’t go to AA. Too be clear, in some cases it was career or family. Other times, I tired from a certain anti-intellectualism that—if not a condition of AA, is widely tolerated in certain regions of 12-Step meetings. There have been years in which I went to six or seven meeting in the whole year. Of course, there have been times when I go to that many face-to-face meetings every week. 

Regarding aggressors in the room, I found them to be more bark than bite. Still, plenty of our members find a more tranquil network outside the rooms, away from bullies and bleeding deacons. So, it’s a personal decision to stay or go. There is no obligation. I feel that I owe something to the still-suffering, so I stay. I still find stimulation and community. To some extent, in my case, some of that duty is codependent, and some of it is gratitude. 

Some get what they need from us and move on to new routines. They don’t leave us to spite us; they graduate. Here’s what Lisa says about her turning point after double-digit years of sobriety: 

From the very beginning, I challenged certain aspects of the twelve-step party line. … But the basic framework of the program did work for me, so I kept coming back and kept staying sober. Ten to fifteen years in, I started to chafe. … So, did I still need to go to meetings to maintain my sobriety? Our community was rife with people who had returned to meetings after trying and failing to stay sober alone. We were constantly warned that catastrophe awaited anyone who stopped working the program. (Such fear-mongering is but one of the reasons twelve-step is called out as a cult by detractors.) … Though I never made an official break with twelve-step, I found myself going to meetings less and less often until eventually I stopped altogether. The habits that I had practiced with such devotion for so long had made permanent changes to my brain and behavior. And they live in me to this day. 

I would not suggest that everyone should ultimately graduate from twelve-step. It’s just what worked for me. 

Over the years, good friends in AA (and other 12-step fellowships) have found what they needed in the rooms and move on. Sometimes, this transition is after decades of regular meeting attendance and personal enmeshment (being a sponcee, being a sponsor, service work, etc).  Is it frightening or liberating to leave your NA, OA or other 12-Step fellowship behind? Does everyone get the same hyperbolic warning: "Don't sail to far from shore; you'll fall off the end of the world"? Maybe graduates knew they would be okay. Maybe it’s a new leap of faith. Maybe for some, it’s gradual—tapering off 12-Step dependency. 

Being a parent is a series of worries as our kids reach new stages of independence. It can feel the same way with my close recovery network. I've been indoctrinated with the stark warning from those who drift from meetings, then lost their way and suffered, often met with near-death encounters, re-enslaved to their drug of choice. Returning to the fold, they share their tragic tale. So I worry (a little) when loved ones take a sabbatical from 12-Step engagement. 

A personal view that I have of 12-Step rooms is that there is a false intimacy in AA. We may feel a close bond that proves to be illusionary when it meets a real test. I’ve seen members who take a sabbatical and no one calls from their home group. After years/decades of intimate discussion, picking up the phone late at night, during work or meal time, countless favors, and then a year after leaving their home group, members are left to wonder, “Why did no one call?” Now, it’s understandable—even healthy—that we don’t stalk newcomers. If they stop coming, should we track them down or leave them to their own devices? Attraction rather than promotion is a personal boundary issue, isn’t it? But if you’ve known a person and said, “Good to see you,” for years and then you don’t see them for a couple of months, are they out-of-sight-out-of-mind? How cold is that? Damaged people—and let me just speak for myself, here—have boundary issues. Behaving badly is still a regular occurrence for me and I have said, well-meaning but inauthentic things, platitudes, and I try today to be clear about how I communicate but I am not always skillful and vigilant. 

For the record, I have my own experience as far as drifting away from meetings. I never quit Adult Children of Alcoholics; but I haven’t been to a meeting in over 15 years. Has my “laundry list” of mal-adaptive coping techniques come back to overwhelm my life? Not often. I’ve been to SLAA, NA, Al-Anon, DA, GA, and other process or substance use disorder fellowships and I haven’t quit any of them. But have I been to a meeting in the last year? No. I go to AA and mostly secular AA and service meetings (hospitals and institutions).  I spend more time online (podcasts, YouTube, blogs, chat groups) than I spend in my face-to-face AA groups. I feel akin to several other fellowships, but I haven’t been back and don’t know when I’ll be back. 

Lisa Martinovic’s account is the opposite of the relapse horror stories when it comes to moving on from AA indoctrination. We have much to learn from ex-12-Steppers? 

AA doesn’t study these patterns, but researchers do.

Lee Ann Kaskutas et al, in 2005, published Alcoholics Anonymous Careers: Patterns of AA Involvement Five Years After Treatment Entry. Over 300 of us were recruited for this long-term study as we were going into treatment. While it may not be definitive, it offers more subjectivity that my or your anecdotal observations and I find these studies worth noting: 

“Some individuals just never connect with the program; some connect but do not stay with it; some immediately feel at home in AA and rely on meetings daily or almost daily; and some embrace AA but their life is not dominated by meeting attendance. It will be important to replicate these results in other treated (and untreated) samples, and to follow AA participants over longer periods of time to more fully understand patterns of meeting engagement and disengagement throughout recover. 

Of course, meeting attendance is but one component of AA engagement. As shown in our mapping of meetings with others AA beliefs and activities, decreasing in AA meetings do not necessarily signal disengagement from AA (especially with respect to feeling like a member of the fellowship).”[2] 

 A 2003 Heath C. Hoffmann offering called, Recovery Careers in Alcoholics Anonymous: Moral Careers Revisited[3] looked at 12-Stepers and identified four AA 'careers' an academics term for what we call, 'many paths.' Here are the four 12-Step carriers (trajectories): 

  1. Insiders (including rank and file members, bleeding deacons/elder statesmen and circuit speakers) 
  2. Tourists 
  3. Chronic Relapsers 
  4. Graduates. 

We have plenty of stories of insiders—some become circuit speakers, sponsors, sponsors, sponsors or trusted servants. Others are the rank and file members. Tourists are motivated to attend AA by outside forces (court, employer, doctor, family, etc.) Graduates—and this is what I would characterize Lisa and others we are talking about as—have had their experiences documented by researchers. Graduates… 

“…experiences some level of conversion to the Twelve Step ideology of AA but at some point ‘graduates’ from the program after he has been able to resolve conflicts.” 

Note that, according to Hoffmann’s findings, not all graduates stay stopped. Some, 

“…having been able to resolve conflicts surrounding his drinking … no longer requires frequent attendance at AA meetings and might even resume alcohol consumption without experiencing related conflicts.” 

Hoffmann notes that this means that AA dogma that “once an alcoholic, always an alcoholic” may not be true for everyone. Also, Hoffmann notes that some AA argue that these cases were never “real alcoholics” in the first place, satisfying their need to defend the once a drunk—always a drunk position to which they seem to find comfort and satisfaction. 

The tourist may do 90-meetings-in-90-days, go to conferences, get a sponsor, work the steps, maybe even get booked and after six to 18 months, they have gotten what they needed—sustained sobriety—and they get on with their life. Some say, "The only time I thought about drinking was when I went to AA meetings." Other tourists—members who were coerced to go to meetings—change their attitude and become insiders. 

Chronic relapsers come back to our meetings, remorseful, desperate and in a act of purging, flog themselves with testimony of their humiliation. Some don't come back, because sometimes they die. And if we ever cared enough or were engaged enough to get their last name, we might hear about their death and attend their funeral. In many more cases, we wonder, "What ever happened to Sandra?" Sometimes the relapser becomes the rank and file member and they have a happy ending. 

Lisa Martinovic ́ is a native San Franciscan who — to the surprise of everyone, most especially herself — spent most of the 1990s in Hogeye, Arkansas.  Yet it was there that she came into her own as a slam poet, writing and performing political satire, ribald erotica, Ozark character studies and a genre she calls poemedy—a hybrid art form combining the most compelling qualities of poetry and stand-up comedy. She has ten self-published books to her credit and the CD Snake Dreams, a joint production with fellow Ozark poet Brenda Moossy. 

Lisa has toured as a performance poet throughout the US, featuring everywhere from New York City, San Francisco and New Orleans Lollapalooza.

The AA graduate stays longer than the tourist and has a career path that looks like the insider member for many years (or decades); then life changes. I've seen member who moved towns. They never feel the community in their new AA environment that they enjoyed at home. They didn't get engaged and they faded from the 12-Step scene, without fanfare. Sometimes they still had plenty of AA friends that they kept in touch with and sometimes I was lucky to be one of the few. Sometimes they out-grow their community.

In some cases, they see their group(s) changing for the worse, becoming more dogmatic or anti-intellectual. More conservative members might feel the same way about a completely different set of changes. It could be the meeting gets more spontaneous and less structured. Drug talk, cross-talking or texting starts to make them feel uncomfortable in their own meeting. After a while they stop enduring the bad experience of going to meeting and find they prefer their nights off to their home groups and/or other AA service commitments. 

We need more of these graduate stories. I am not asking for volunteers. I am just saying we should collect and celebrate these personal accounts, just as we celebrate the insider 12-Stepper. 

Jon Stewart is an online friend who’s no enemy to AA but his recovery community has expanded and his meeting attendance has faded to periodic. He’s still a great contributor to the recovery community, talking about the Sinclair Method and other avenues to recovery. He’s an active online recovery participant and there’s nothing about his recovery that appears to me to be any shakier than rank-and-file NA, AA, SLAA (and other process and substance addiction mutual-aid societies) members I know. 

While relapse can happen when someone stops going to meetings, relapse also happens to treatment professionals that enjoyed decades-long engagement in 12-Step rooms. No one is immune from relapse. More of these graduate stories would help us replace our current mythology. Who wants to trade one slave-master for another? I don’t want to go to AA because it’s a crutch that I can’t get along without. I want to go because I want to go. AA doesn't fail someone who stops going. And people who recovery with the help of AA don't owe a lifetime debt of repayment. It's an AA success story that some graduate—not to take anything away from the individual commitment to sobriety. How do we know that the people who leave AA aren't our best success stories? 

Life offers opportunity. Opportunity imposes risk. For me, I want to hear all the stories of the many paths of recovery. Thank you, Lisa, for sharing your success story. It isn't disloyal to AA to point out our flaws. I thought Lisa posted a very balanced account of AA's attributes and some of our shortcomings. I've found some of these other graduates. Podcasts, like The Bubble Hour, and several others, offer stories of people whose life choices don't always include a meeting a day or even a meeting every week. 

I hope this story gets shared and enjoyed. I for one, highly recommend it. Steve K, surely feels the same.Steve writes for recovery lifestyle magazines including In The Rooms. He is author of The 12 Step Philosophy of Alcoholics Anonymous: An interpretation by Steve K. and host/blogger to 12stepphilosophy.wordpress.com From his website you can read the whole article by Lisa about how the brain reacts to addiction and recovery. There are plenty more good blogs posted by Steve, so take your time and scroll around.

https://12stepphilosophy.wordpress.com/2017/05/17/what-gets-you-sober-god-or-your-neurons/ 

http://leavingaa.com/about/ 

Lisa's BLOG http://slaminatrix.com/

[1] https://www.aa.org/assets/en_US/f-211_SafetyCardforAAGroups.pdf 

[2] https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pubmed/16340455 

[3] http://journals.sagepub.com/doi/10.1177/009145090303000306 Contemporary Drug Problems 30/Fall 2003 pp. 647 - 684

Can You Hear Me? Understanding Worldviews and how each Sees 12 Steps 

Step Language – is there an expression of AA for everyone in their own, authentic native tongue?

Download or view PDF version of Blog HERE

Very, very soon, some of us will meet in Sedona Arizona for “Beyond Belief: A Secular Journey through the Twelve Steps” (October 27 – 29). I’m excited; New data/research is waiting to be shared; I’m looking forward to a sober and multi-cultural conversation about expressing AA in everyone’s native tongue. This includes a growing need for AA in unbeliever-ease.

For not-so-sure-agnostic or adamant atheist, does “By ‘God,’ we mean your conception of God” really create a level playing field for everyone? “No,” in my experience. But can the Steps be articulated in the authentic, plain language for anyone, regardless of one’s worldview? In my experience, “Yes.” The suggested process can be translated to truly authentic languages that speaks each AA’s sincerely held beliefs. “Meet people where there at,” in my view, is more inviting than asking them to speak back to us using G.O.D. acronyms. It’s like wearing clothes that just don’t fit. It covers a woman or man up but you can see the solution wasn’t tailored to her or him. Yes, you can access age-old wisdom without having to parrot dated language.

Instead of focusing on how the first 100 got sober; emulate how the most recent 100 AA’s journeyed through the Twelve Step process. Plain, contemporary language is more conducive to deeply personal experience; it fits better.

This past weekend, I was getting ready, including getting inspired. Renascent House (Toronto) teamed up with Hazelden—Betty Ford, Friday afternoon and Saturday to treat people to Fred H., author of Drop the Rock… The Ripple Effect (2016). Nearly forty years in addiction treatment, Fred (pictured) is the director of “The Lodge,” a retreat center on the Hazelden Minneapolis campus that some of my best Toronto AA friends rave about. Threatening retirement, Fred continues international speaking events on The Big Book and the principles of the Twelve Steps; he cares deeply about the Steps. His conviction is contagious.

Fred’s Friday following was mostly addiction/recovery professionals. The focus was Twelve-Step Facilitation between counselor and client. Saturday was the general recovery community. People could attend for free. There was a suggested donation to the Renascent Foundation but no one was turned away.

Here are some highlights:

Twelve Step Facilitation is better understood—not as an “Evidence Based Practice,” but—as, “Practice Based Evidence.”

This twist is more than witty; I think it’s a meaningful distinction. This idea coat-tails off other thoughtful advocates, such as Ward Ewing (AA General Service Board Chair emeritus)’s, “Experience trumps explanation,” and the Kurtz/Ketcham wisdom of Experiencing Spirituality and that book’s predecessor, The Spirituality of Imperfection. One great Kurtz/Ketcham-ism from Spirituality of Imperfection is, “Humor, humility, humanity … we cannot work on one without working on the others.” More Kurtz/Ketcham later; back to Fred H.

There are six things Alcoholics Anonymous (The Big Book) teaches us hundreds of times…

  1. Alcoholism is an illness of the body
  2. Alcoholism is an illness of the mind
  3. The solution is spiritual
  4. Overreliance on self, blocks us from the solution
  5. We need to follow directions to bet unblocked
  6. We need to continue to follow directions to stay unblocked

Fred describes one and two as, “The body can’t handle what the mind can’t leave alone.” That’s a conundrum.

The word “sin” is a Hebrew word, whose origin means “off the mark,” an archer’s term, not the popular moralizing idea widely held, today.

Times for renewal in sobriety or times to be mindful of relapse-prevention are when we are in a state of “emotional inebriety,” the opposite of what Bill wrote about in The Grapevine—"emotional sobriety.” In January 1958 Bill wrote about …

“the development of much more real maturity and balance (which is to say, humility) in our relations… Those adolescent urges that so many of us have for top approval, perfect security, and perfect romance—urges quite appropriate to age seventeen—prove to be an impossible way of life when we are at age forty-seven or fifty-seven. Since AA began, I’ve taken immense wallops in all these areas because of my failure to grow up, emotionally and spiritually…”

Fred H’s, Drop the Rock… The Ripple Effect: Using Step 10 to Work 6 and 7 Every Day (2016) is the natural follow up to Hazelden best-seller, Drop the Rock: Removing Character Defects (1993) by Bill P., Todd W., and Sara S. Steps Six and Seven get about a paragraph each in The Big Book. Our maladaptive coping techniques, as the cool-kids call them, are the rocks that the 1993 book helped hundreds-of-thousands let go of. The Ripple Effect is about how our incompleteness affects others and that’s where Step Ten comes into play—periodic inventory and making corrections.

From Drop the Rock… The Ripple Effect:

“On any given day, most of us make hundreds of small and large decisions, act in hundreds of different ways, and say hundreds of different things to a wide range of people. Each interaction and conversation has its own Ripple Effect, and we can't control them all. What we can do is—after having cleaned house with Steps Four through Nine—relax, knowing that we now have the insight and tools with Step Ten to face each day and moment with openness and serenity.”

Looking ahead to Sedona October 27 – 29 and the challenges of AA language

Did you know there is no word for “sober” in French?

Our home group, Beyond Belief Agnostics & Freethinkers Group (Toronto Canada), decided to devote room on our literature table to other-than-English AA literature. In Toronto, 911 calls are answered in 150 languages and we have members whose native tongue in Polish, Spanish, Russian, Punjabi, French or other. So, we got some Living Sobers and pamphlets in other languages.

The French Living Sober is Vivre… Sans Alcool! (directly translated as living without alcohol; they don’t have a word for “sober”). It makes me wonder how many AA-isms, commonplace in English speaking meetings, don’t translate due to cultural or linguistic variations in our more exotic AA homegroups. While “God as you understand Him” was an open invitation for everyone in 1939, has it stood the test of time? “God” alienates many who either do not culturally identify with the Judeo/Christian traditions so ubiquitous in 1939 or the 2017 member has reasons for rejecting said indoctrination.

What’s the atheist’s word for “God?”

Just as the French don’t have a word, for “sober,” is it fine to say, “That word isn’t in my vocabulary and that construct isn’t How It Works for me?” Or do we want our AA atheist to talk in G.O.D. acronyms? Does that help “our more religious members” feel assured that in AA, atheism is permitted—not accommodated?

I hope everyone whose worldview doesn’t include a prayer-answering, sobriety-granting higher power can find an integral language to articulate their addiction/recovery experience AND feel equal, valued, and part of AA—without an asterisk. But it’s not unusual for AA’s who reject speaking in theism-ese to be met with stigma, dismissiveness and hostility. This isn’t obvious to everyone, but when newcomers object to the Twelve Steps on religious grounds, they get met with the knee-jerk—say it with me— “But AA is spiritual, not religious” and the newcomer says nothing… their silence doesn’t always mean, “You know you’re right, sorry for my close-mindedness.” Some of us find any talk of reliance on supernatural forces to be a very religious notion. AA isn’t an organized religion but for many, our practices and language are small-r religious.

This just in: Ipsos just released the Global View on Religion 2017 . This data reveals some strained relations between nonbelievers and their more religious neighbors. While I suspect these findings aren’t exactly analogous to Main Street AA, let’s just see what clues this latest poll offers. The term “religious beliefs” is used in the Ipsos poll.

For the record, if you want to understand AA non-theists, an example of AA’s religious beliefs would include, “God could and would if He were sought,” or “Became entirely ready to have God remove all these defects of character.” Much of the Global View on Religion poll is eye-opening. Of note, poll respondents were presented with the statement, “I lose respect for people when I find out that they are not religious.” While 60% “strongly disagree,” why isn’t it 100%? That’s 4 out of ten who “somewhat disagree” or more concerning, “somewhat agree” or “strongly agree.”

We’ve talked before about “secularphobia”—the irrational fear or distrust of people who don’t believe in God. That isn’t everyone in AA and maybe it isn’t most. Today, when a white, heterosexual middle-aged male of privilege says, “everyone is equal and has the same opportunity,” that can frustrate women, African Americans and the LGBTQ membership. Similarly, nonbelievers watch our backs and pay attention to how people are reacting to us in a way that other members need not do. Like 1960s LGBTQ members, some 2017 agnostics and atheist are “in the closet” to feel safe.

AAs who don’t believe in an AA higher-power have reported to me that they were told:

  • You must be more open-minded,
  • You will relapse if you don’t find God, and
  • AA never intended to be for everyone and maybe you will be happier starting your own secular fellowship down the street.

The Ipsos poll looks at country by country comparisons. Great Britain had ½ the number of people who loose respect for nonreligious people, compared to the USA. Maybe it is no coincidence that the UK General Service Conference approved and published The ‘God’ Word: Agnostics and Atheists in AA. Meanwhile, the GSO located in the USA has been inundated with double-digit requests since 1975 for a pamphlet for unbelievers. These requests came from individuals, groups, districts and area delegates. Each time, it’s been a variation on the refrain, “Sorry, not at this time.”

So, if we can agree that not all agnostics and atheist feel equal in AA, then a discussion in the desert about Twelve Step language for non-theists is timely. GSO isn’t AA’s boss. October 27 – 29 we take our concerns to the top of the AA hierarchy, you and me, your home group and my home group. How can you and I be more accommodating to ensure that AA is for everyone, regardless of their belief or lack of belief?

Better communicating: We don’t need to be told; we need to feel heard

To take credit for solving the communication breakdown issue, I will remind you of what you already know. From Experiencing Spirituality: Finding Meaning Through Storytelling by Ernie Kurtz and Katherine Ketcham:

“Humility and obedience are two painfully misunderstood virtues that are really the arts of listening. Humility involves the refusal to coerce, the rejection of all attempts to control others. … Spirituality is experienced in our Listening.”

In the role of counselor, sponsor or friend, we try to inspire Twelve-Step creativity and fearless self-expression. Dismissing someone by telling them they are closed-minded is a pretty good way to do just the opposite. Instead of rebutting someone with, “Higher Power can be anything you want it to be,” why not listen more deeply? Why not empathize? Ask another question instead; invite your subject to elaborate. We fear open-ended questions because we can’t control what happens next. As Kurtz and Ketcham reminds, “humility involves the refusal to coerce, the rejection of all attempts to control others.”

To hear where people are coming from, I find it easier to picture them in a place instead of holding a position. If we are in the same cabin at the peak of a mountain, and they can only see out of a North-East window and I only see out of the South-West window, we experience the world differently. To empathize, I listen more to what they see.

The one-dimensional idea of atheists at one end of a line and theists at the other end, with agnostics teetering in the middle, doesn’t work for me. Our worldview comes about from a combination of reason and intuition. A one-dimensional line offers degrees; we can have true believers and ardent non-theists at ends of the spectrum and moderates closer to the center.

Linear thinking is black and white… maybe with some agnostic grey in the middle. Can we think instead of worldviews like “blue?” We don’t just have dark blue or light blue. Blue with a yellow influence has a whole spectrum of green influence. Blue with a red influence also has a wide spectrum of purple. Like purple is a blend of blue and red, I see worldview as a blend of intuition and reason. First, we intuitively lean towards a supernatural worldview or a natural worldview (Gods or no gods). This puts our intuitive-brain to work. But complementary to that is our reasoning style that colors how we articulate our gut-feeling intuition. We all reason. Some of us reason concretely. Some of us are abstract reasoners. This linear way to categorize people suits the concrete thinkers only. Binary or reductionist thinking finds this to be satisfactory, maybe even scientific. But if we think abstractly about how the universe operates, then the nature of the question is equally or more important than the answer to that question. An abstract thinker doesn’t see philosophical or existential questions in ones and zeros. So, to divide people into worldviews,

I prefer to plot worldviews two-dimensionally—on a quadrilateral graph—instead of a line. I’ve seen this paradigm illustrated before and it resonates more with me. Integrating both intuition (Y-axis) and reason (X-axis) feels holistic in understanding a more complicated question that, “Want a coffee?”

A Quadrilateral Look at Worldviews (Four—not three--types)

Quadrilateral graphs have a North/South Y-axis and a West/East X-axis. On the Y-axis let’s look at intuitive predisposition. Is it gods or is it nature? What is our visceral, gut feeling? Is the supernatural our personal experience or an outdated superstition? Forget for a minute what your rational is; how do you feel about it? Let’s consider terminology for our North and South of the Y-axis. I like Natural (worldview) for North, Supernatural (worldview) for South. Yes, it’s true that I really like that N is short for both North and Natural (or Naturalism) and the same for “S”. But I also have issues with other ways of defining these hemispheres. Believer vs. non-believer implies that some people can’t or won’t hold beliefs of any kind; we all believe something. The same problem comes up with theist vs. atheist. The a-theist does not believe in intervening deities but who wants to be identified by what one does not believe? It’s no better if we identify atheists as rationalists; what would we call the other hemisphere? Non-rationalist? That’s hardly fair or accurate. I like natural/supernatural because, like pro-choice and pro-life, no one is against something; they each believe something to be true for themselves.

Please use whatever labels you like; encourage others to use their language. I’m not trying to control the conversation.

For Naturalism, I borrow the definition from Skeptic Magazine editor Michael Shermer who wrote an article in a peer-reviewed journal, Theology and Science, Volume 15, 2017 – Issue 3. It’s called “Scientific Naturalism: A Manifesto for Enlightenment Humanism” and his definition of holding a naturalism worldview is…

“The belief that the world is governed by natural laws and forces that can be understood, and that all phenomena are part of nature and can be explained by natural causes, including human cognitive, moral and social phenomena. The application of scientific naturalism in the human realm led to the widespread adoption of Enlightenment humanism, a cosmopolitan worldview that places supreme value on science and reason, eschews the supernatural entirely and relies exclusively on nature and nature’s laws, including human nature.”

There are plenty more definitions for supernaturalism and feel free to use your favorite for either. For me, a supernatural worldview recognizes a universe or life governed, not only by material forces but also, by non-material (spiritual) forces. Feel free to add to that gods, higher powers or any ideas you hold about a supernatural worldview. With Naturalism to the North and Supernaturalism in the Southern hemisphere, that invites a cross-section of East/West hemispheres as well— our reasoning style to collaborate with our intuition. This West/East difference could be expressed as concrete vs. abstract, binary vs. complex, reductionism vs, relativism.

Earlier I used Bill Wilson’s “We Agnostics,” challenge: God is or He is not; it can’t be both; what is our answer to be? That’s a concrete (binary) language. But if you are of the Eastern hemisphere, abstract or relativism style or reasoner, the question is a fool’s errand. The answer is unknown and unknowable. “I don’t know and you don’t either.”

Recently, YouTube has been flush with new debates about the existence of god(s) and only Western X-axis speakers were invited to the debate. New atheists line up to match wits against the greatest theologians of our time, also excited to match wits. University Halls would sell out and YouTube hits would be the envy of any pop star recording artist. People love these cage-match debates. While they’re entertaining, do they help us understand each other? What we’ve learned from gender identity is that we don’t label others based on our perceived criteria; everyone gets to self-identify, now. Even if we perceive another as being of a distinct gender identity, it’s not up to us to label anyone other than ourselves. Like someone looking out only a North-East Window she, will draw conclusions that you or I would not, based on the inescapable realities we draw from our limited South-East, North-West or South-West window. We don’t only color our definitions but we want you to use our definitions for labels, too.

How many times have I had a theist tell me what it means to be an atheist? Frustrating.

In these worldview debates, each side wanted to dominate how each term must be defined for all. Just as we now invite people to gender-identify without imposing another’s criteria, it’s better to allow each of us to choose and define our worldview labels. It doesn’t require consensus. I don’t ask someone what their conception of God is? That’s pigeonholing someone into 1940s AA language. Vikings would use the term Oden; Muslims and Sikhs discourage descriptive narration for the almighty. I ask a fellow member how they see the world working? Is there outside agency at play, from their vantagepoint? Do they believe we’re here to figure life out on our own or is there a source or anther dimension? People can tell if they’re being tested or if I really want to know how they feel about things. People love to talk about themselves, if they feel safe. I can meet them where they are. If they believe in outside agency, I ask them about it. If they believe that such a belief is superstitious, I ask them to tell me how they believe life and the universe works.

This existential question, or the answer to it, isn’t superficially arrived at and isn’t easily moved from. People might have a strong feeling or a slight hint. AA can work for them regardless. In how others explain their position I might get a sense if they are more concrete or abstract in how they reason. If I’m not sure, I can just ask, “Do you think it’s a black and white thing?” I find people who hold concrete reasoning styles are easier to identify that those who hold abstract views.

Abstract thinkers aren’t so concerned with absolutes. Abstract supernaturalism might be in the form of somethingism: “I don’t think the only reality of life is what we sense or measure. It makes sense to me that there is something.” Even “higher power” might be too restrictive for an Abstract Supernaturalist. Some in this quadrant might identify with Ietsism. This is a belief system that might relate to “spiritual but not religious” but maybe not “God of our understanding.” Ietsists beliefs are unspecified and the transcendent force is undefined or undetermined. Ietsists might think the ability to understand Him, Her, It or They is beyond human capacity. To try or to lay claim to an understanding—to an Abstract Supernaturalist—seems either arrogant or delusional.

You might never find someone in this SW, Abstract Supernaturalism quadrant talking about the will of the gods for them. They may or may not have a defined sense of what this immaterial force is or how concerned it is with our day to day decisions or our values. Abstract Supernaturalists may balk at the idea of understanding the unknowable. If angered, they may retort that claims of “understanding,” is the simplicity of an under-developed mind. Who are we to “understand” that which is greater than us. It can’t be both a higher power and a comprehendible power, can it? And don’t answer that question; it’s rhetorical. Empathize with their unwillingness to try to capture the unknowable in mortal terms. Abstract Naturalists might be quick to jump to, “Because it’s unknown or unknowable, how helpful is it to talk about, pretend, or worry about it? I get on with life, satisfied that somethings are unknowable and I don’t worry myself much about it.” Some people call themselves apa-theists. “I don’t know and I don’t care; can we talk about something more interesting, now?” The futility of seeking is endless and a natural world is awesome enough without supernatural explanation for the unknown. Either supernatural or natural abstract thinkers may lose respect for anyone who argues for or against creation, a parking-spot-finding higher power or any of the concrete arguments and language that seem to amuse so many in AA.

If you subscribe to Concrete Supernaturalism, you’ve won the Twelve-Step lottery. Most of the Big Book or other Twelve-Step literature is written in your language: “When, therefore, we speak to you of God, we mean your own conception of God. This applies, too, to other spiritual expressions which you find in this book.” If you’re a Concrete Supernaturalist, you’ll wonder why everyone doesn’t feel included by this language.

But we don’t all feel “This book gets me!” For many in the naturalism hemisphere, “spirituality” is a woo-woo word for the superstitious. It is a projection from the ego of man, an inescapable tendency to see patterns even when there are none, to feel thinks that are not categorically real. But that isn’t universally true. Sam Harris talks about the spiritual life of atheists. Some AA’s do, too. I have met AA atheist who pray. They no longer believe in god(s) they were taught to pray to as kids; but the ritual of prayer (to nothing), still gives comfort.

Concrete Naturalists might be anti-religion, they might roll their eyes during the reading of “How It Works,” and blurt out, “Nobody here believes this shit, do they?!?” This might be stereotypical of other’s conceptions of non-theists. Some will be activists and fight for separation of church and state. Some might argue that religion is more harmful than good. But Concrete Naturalists aren’t mad at God; how can you be mad at something you don’t believe exists? Some are frustrated that others (in their view) are so weak that they make things up to cope with their finite, chaotic life. On the other hand, many Concrete Naturalists just never give the idea of a supernatural realm the slightest thought. The world is awesome and wonderful as a natural phenomenon. They just don’t think of god during a sunrise and no—they don’t pray in a foxhole; atheist are the soldiers returning fire while others fall to their knees in prayer.

In a secular environment you rarely see an angry Concrete Naturalist. They have no religion to react to and they are content in their awesome natural and finite world. With no belief in an intervening deity, someone from this quadrant might make peace with a secular power greater than themselves. It could be a power of example, a higher purpose, the power of inspiration or persuasion. But there is no need for Naturalists to talk in Supernatural constructs. For example, an atheist might not believe “God could and would if He were sought,” but she or he may volunteer that the power of fellowship or the power of program is keeping her or him clean and sober. On the other hand, they might wonder why others would demonize will, self-will, freethought. It isn’t willpower that’s to be avoided, it’s self-will-run-riot. One is healthy, one is not. It’s not “our best thinking” that caused our downfall; it was impulsive thinking. Reason or sanity may be a naturalist’s higher power but don’t expect all of them to talk in this theistically biased language.

The more we exercise empathy, the more empathic we become. If you’re a believer, you suffer doubt. If you’re a naturalist, you wonder about infinite possibilities. Consider that each person, from each quadrant has a distinct personality, too. Extroverts will communicate different than introverts, for example. Highly conscientious people will have strict boundaries around the language we use, but if conscientiousness is something you rank lower in, you won’t be so rigid. Every quadrant has personality traits, beyond what they believe.

Do you know about the Big Five in psychology or the Five Factor Model that influence our personality? There are two acronyms: CANOE or OCEAN and the five characteristics—depending how high or low you score—effects how you relate to your worldview and others.

These are the five factor modle traits 

  1. Openness to New Experiences, 
  2. Conscientiousness, 
  3. Extraversion/Introversion, 
  4. Agreeableness and 
  5. Neuroticism. 

Test Yourself: https://www.psychologytoday.com/test/1297

 

How someone ranks in these five factors will weigh on how they express themselves or if they express themselves about worldview. Someone ranking high on “agreeableness” might be difficult to get talking candidly, especially if they are concerned that their view isn’t the popular view. An extroverted abstract person might loudly dismiss concrete thinkers as infantile thinkers. Extroverted concrete thinkers will call abstracts “indecisive fence-sitters.” Introverts might not say anything during a debate; even if they have a clear view about the topic. If you or I score low on our openness to new experiences it will be hard to listen to opposing views. We would interrupt with rebuttals or try to persuade them that ours is the more enlightened point of view. If you want to know how you rank on the Five Factor Model (FFM) follow the Psychology Today link above.

If you’re joining us in Sedona Arizona, come for a discussion—not a lecture. I have some prepared material but we will be breaking into smaller workshops and sharing our own concerns or experiences with the language of addiction/recovery. Even AA’s Big Book—with its theistic bias—has some all-inclusive language. “We found we tapped an unsuspecting inner resource.”

Newer fellowships have more contemporary language and less reification. For fun, I’ve borrowed some newer (than 1939) Steps. Some are from 21st century fellowship and some have been around a surprisingly long time, helping addicts with alternative language to express the same universal process.

Hopefully, these suggestions open our minds to alternative ways of seeing and articulating the process. None of these Steps (see bellow) in this list are theoretical; they are all being used somewhere with success. Many of them can be found in a helpful reference for anyone working with others who are working the Steps: The Little Book: A Collection of Alternative 12 Steps, by Roger C, AA-Agnostica. This 70-page booklet can be found on RebellionDogsPublishing.com bookstore page, AAagnostica.org, Amazon or anywhere you buy books.

Let’s keep this discussion going…

 

Notes:

Preview or buy Drop The Rock ... Ripple Effect CLICK HERE

More about Sedona Mago Retreat October 27 - 29 http://www.sedonamagoretreat.org/beyond-belief/

More Fred H: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=eVG0eyENfeg

More about Renascennt https://renascent.ca/

Ipsos Survey Details: https://www.ipsos.com/sites/default/files/ct/news/documents/2017-10/globaladvisor_Religion_Charts_AUSTRALIA.pdf

How Baby Boomers are Killing AA and Four Ways You and I can Stop Them  

Rebellion Dogs Blog August 2017: Generational issues and How to Accommodate Them 

 

Download or read the PDF (click HERE)

Come visit the podcast (Radio) page and listen along (click HERE)

Today: How Baby Boomers are killing AA and 4 ways you and I can stop them!

“We stood at the turning point... we practice these principles in all of our affairs…” Douglas Coupland, is it something we said?

The above quote is from a Foreword written for a book I am awaiting arrival of. It's by Rosa Harris and it's called, Boomerville - Musings on a Generation that Refuses to Go Quietly. Coupland is talking about Baby Boomer's stranglehold on all of society but he could have been speaking directly to 12-Step culture. If this speaks to needs of future generations, what does this say about AA sustainability? 

Long before AA’s centennial birthday (2035), we will be a mostly-millennial fellowship. Will our literature resonate with newcomers and 2035 long-timers in the same way that we-loving Baby Boomers feel about AA verses, today?

Here’s something else to think about: Is our job as stewards to preserve AA as it was, or prepare AA for those yet to come? 

According to U.S. Department of Health Services National Center for Health Statistics this is how the break down goes generations-wise in and outside of 12-Step rooms: 

 

I’m a Boomer. According to Coupland, when I—or we of my era—say, “What AA needs to thrive in the future is to …” what I really mean is, “What I want …,” “What makes me most comfortable ...” Also, if Coupland has nailed it, I am under the misapprehension that I am speaking for everyone; I am unaware of projecting my own biases. Speaking in the authorial “we“ might not be an empathetic, community building way to treat fellow addicts. Certainly, things are different since my foggy memories of what made me start to feel comfortable in AA and want to get sober. Maybe this is a serious generational thing—a communication breakdown. 

Unless someone (younger) points it out, how would I know that the way I express myself is repugnant to the generation of AA that matters most—generation-next. 

Above and to our left are charts look at generations and AA population. According to demographers (first chart), there are five generations in AA, today. On the left is AA’s age (2014 AA Membership Survey)[i]. AA conducts a triennial survey. At the time of writing this, AA is collecting 2017 data but it won’t be available to membership until mid-to-late-2018.

Currently in AA, our average AA is a Gen X (50-years-old). About 25% of us are millennials.

That number can only grow, if one assumes that AA will grow or at least stay the same as our current (roughly two-million) population. Exactly 0% of our literature was written by Generation Next. As Bill Sees It dried up for new content upon Bill’s 1971 death when the oldest Gen-Xers were six-years-old. 

Is it possible that the way the older ½ of our fellowship likes to be read to from the podium is turning off the younger generation? Could this be a contributory factor to AA’s population stagnation or decline (depending on how you measure it) since late last century? 

Today, let us take inventory of AA literature and the bulk of copy-cat 12-Step books that followed AA’s lead. Let’s look at the authorship of “we” and consider how big a problem it is and what we can do about it. 

First, let’s look at AA’s generational trending, as studied and reported by the Pew Research Group[ii]. The 2016 report starts off with this zinger: 

Millennials have surpassed Baby Boomers as the nation’s largest living generation, according to population estimates released this month by the U.S. Census Bureau. Millennials, whom we define as those ages 18-34 in 2015, now number 75.4 million, surpassing the 74.9 million Baby Boomers (ages 51-69). And Generation X (ages 35-50 in 2015) is projected to pass the Boomers in population by 2028. 

Again, 2028 is well before AA’s centennial birthday in 2035. If AA still gathers around a 100-year old—never updated—Big Book, how large will the 100th birthday cake have to be? Who will be left to care about AA’s legacy? If our literature inadvertently polarizes our current and future demo, AA loyalists will be sharply declined. 

The Pew Report by senior researcher, Richard Fry goes on to further future-shock us: 

For a few more years, Gen Xers are projected to remain the “middle child” of generations – caught between two larger generations of the Millennials and the Boomers. They are smaller than Millennials because the generational span of Gen X (16 years) is shorter than the Millennials (17 years) … Baby Boomers have always had an outsized presence compared with other generations. They were the largest generation and peaked at 78.8 million in 1999.” 

“Talking ‘bout my generation,” as The Who sung to us, Baby Boomers have taken back what we sung so loud; we no longer hope we die before we get/got old. AA language started getting old in 1999. If we continue to “party like it’s 1999 (OMG—even Prince is dead)” we are dreaming if we imagine AA having a relevant place in a 2035 discussion about addiction and recovery. 

Our literature is written most often in this we-authorship. As a writer, I can tell you it is not natural and if we were to replace it with a better way, we could solve some uncomfortable and clumsy obstacles. Just writing and re-reading that last sentence, I find this we-thing to be an insidious habit. I struggled with this very dilemma when I wrote a book for people with alcohol and other substance use disorders. 

I remember trying this out as an author. Was I going to write Beyond Belief: Agnostic Musings for 12 Step Life in first person, I, I, I, finger pointing you, you, you second-person or with “we” authorship? To 12-Step rooms, of any generation, we-talk begets eyeball rolling. 

So, from the Preface of Beyond Belief, here’s how I recounted this editorial conundrum leading up to our January 2013 release: 

The daily musings in this book are written in the customary we voice. I know—only obnoxious people talk this way in meetings. However, this is the style used in self-help writing. There are imperfections with the English language and they become even more pronounced using this we voice. Technically, “God of our understanding” should be “Gods of our understanding.” If two people believe in God, the God of one’s understanding is a different one than the others—hence, Gods. “Clearing away our side of the street” would be more grammatically correct as “our sides of the street” but nobody talks that way. “Our drug of choice” should be “our drugs of choice” and “our inner-child” should be “our inner children” to be consistent with the plural “our.” As an editorial turning point there was no way to be grammatically correct and not come across awkwardly. Most daily reflection books are penned in a we voice so we do too, despite the ambiguity.[iii] 

In light of Douglas Coupland's new information, with Beyond Belief, would I make the same editorial decision—if I’m thinking about the average person new to recovery, today? She is a millennial. Or maybe she’s Generation X or a teenage Gen Z. 

We-authorship: the good, the bad and the ugly 

The GOOD: Our first literary effort wasn’t written from an exclusive we-authorship perspective, originally. It was written in second-person— “You...” The original manuscript and the edits to Chapter Five (“How It Works”) includes the statement, “If you are convinced, you are at step three, which is that you make a decision to turn your will and your life over to God as you understand Him.” The next edit was “Being convinced we were at step three, which is that we decided to turn our wills and our lives over to God as we understood Him.” 

This you-to-we-authorship change was a reaction to broad criticism that our manuscript was going to confront and alienate our prospective new members. Doctors who worked with inebriates reminded us that telling a problem drinker what to do would not be well received. Better, we tell them what our experience has been; stop pointing a finger at the alcoholic. “Use suggestions; don’t make commands,” we were told by the academics, religious and medical experts of the day. It made sense that this would be more palatable to our reader. 

Other examples of the original “you”/second-person language was: 

“Half measures will avail you nothing. You stand at the turning point. Throw yourself under His protection and care with complete abandon. Now we think you can take it: Here are the steps…” Alcoholics Anonymous manuscript 

So, the “we language” reflected our experience, it didn’t presume to instruct; we made a list, we stood at the turning point was a big improvement over “you must this” and “you will find that…” It was just right for a time. It took from 1939 until 1973 for AA to sell one million we, we, we Big Books. By 1990 we sold over ten million and then sold one million per year until 2010 where we exceeded thirty million cumulative Big Books sales. 

From a 2009 high of 1,220,138 annual Big Books we sunk nearly 30% to 887,532 in 2010. We would rest below one-million annual sales for years. In 1990 when we were regularly selling a million per year, Baby Boomers were between 26 and 44 years old—prime time for coming to AA for the first time. By 2010, Boomers were 46—64, past the average age that sufferers of alcohol and other drug use disorders first come to AA. Since 2010, the average newcomer is either Gen X, 30 to 45-years-old or even late 20s millennials. 

The unconsciously (according to Coupland) blissful Baby Boomers talked up our we, we, we, experience during our heyday. This phenomenon turned Alcoholics Anonymous into one of USA’s largest publishing companies, driving Bill W books (Alcoholics Anonymous, 12 & 12, AA Comes of Age and As Bill Sees It) to over fifty-million copies by 2010.  Along with book sales, membership growth follows the We-Gen Baby Boomers, too. AA broke two-million members in the early 1990s when Boomers were 30 to 45-years-old which is prime newcomer-age. The 2017 first-time-to-AA member of 30 to 45-year-olds are Gen X and Millennials. 

We are at the end of the “our experience has taught us” generation and we are now starting the era of the, “I  mistrust you if you keep talking that way” AA members. 

No problem; if the literature as written is no longer communicating effectively, we can just change a few pronouns, right? 

The BAD:  In 2002, The General Service Conference affirmed the following advisory action: 

“The text in the book, Twelve Steps and Twelve Traditions, written by Bill Wilson, remain as is, recognizing the Fellowship’s feeling that Bill’s writings be retained as originally published.” 

It should be no surprise that the lion’s share of 2002 delegates and other Conference members were we-loving Boomers. 

Reflecting on the challenges of a new millennium, AA at least asked the question; “Ought our literature be updated? Is this mid-20th century language up to code for the millennial generation?” The blowback was unwavering. In 2003, as they looked at proposed Twelve and Twelve fixer-upers, the General Service Conference voted unanimously to re-assert the 2002 idea of never altering Bill W’s writings… not one wee (we) word. 

Hence, the General Service Conference’s welcome the new millennium introduction to the 12 & 12 is what the Conference calls, “a unified response to questions regarding specific language, idioms, and historical figures or events from A.A. members, newcomers and non-alcoholics.” Thus, your Twelve and Twelve intro now starts off as follows: 

“Alcoholics Anonymous first published Twelve Steps and Twelve Traditions in 1953. Bill W., who along with Dr. Bob S. founded Alcoholics Anonymous in 1935, wrote the book to share 18 years of collective experience within the Fellowship on how A.A. members recover, and how our society functions. 

In recent years some members and friends of A.A. have asked if it would be wise to update the language, idioms, and historical references in the book to present a more contemporary image for the Fellowship. However, because the book has helped so many alcoholics find recovery, there exists strong sentiment within the Fellowship against any change to it. In fact, the 2002 General Service Conference discussed this issue and it was unanimously recommended that: “The text in the book Twelve Steps and Twelve Traditions, written by Bill W., remain as is, recognizing the Fellowship’s feelings that Bill’s writing be retained as originally published. 

We hope that the collective spiritual experience of the A.A. pioneers captured in these pages continues to help alcoholics and friends of A.A. understand the principles of our program.”[iv] 

So, Boomers, who prefer the we-language, pretty much reified AA best-sellers into our own likeness. It isn’t wrong to preserve a legacy. The question is about our primary purpose. As asked previously about stewardship: is our duty to preserve AA in the likeness of our founders or prepare AA in the best way we can for the AA member yet to come? 

The UGLY: One point has already been made; Generation-Next is saying loud and clear, “We don’t feel comfortable with this “we tried to carry this message to alcoholics, and to practice these principles in all our affairs,” language, and, as Gen-X Douglas Coupland describes us, Boomers unselfconsciously retort with glee, “If it works why fix it? We will be amazed before we are half way through.” 

The other more insidious consequence of a generation of we-talk is a tendency towards believing that or representing the AA experience as being universal.  The thinking goes, if we did this and we got that then we must be the same. To all but the unselfconscious, this just isn’t true. If I do twelve things exact as you explained that you had done, I will get a different result than you. If you do the same as me, you will get a different outcome. Results may vary. 

Take AA’s love-in with the word, “spiritual.” Contrary to Big Book warnings, bristling over the word "spiritual" is harmless. Being united as AA members isn't to abandon authenticity and cave to group-think. It's fine to have a practical experience as a result of these steps... or just an experience as a result of these steps. It's cult-like to take our literature literally and encourage conformity. If spiritual is the word you would have used to describe your experience, run with it. “Spirituality” isn’t a bad word. Just don't worry about those who take a pass on claiming to have had a spiritual experience. We will get and/or stay sober just like you - in our own individual way. 

From “We Agnostics:” 

“…we often found ourselves handicapped by obstinacy, sensitiveness, and unreasoning prejudice. Many of us have been so touchy that even casual reference to spiritual things made us bristle with antagonism. This sort of thinking had to be abandoned.” Alcoholics Anonymous, P 48 

This is one fly in the ointment of taking our literature literally or isolating a single statement without context. This very statement from page 48 was walked-back in so many ways over the years. By the second printing of the same Big Book more had been revealed. 

“The Spiritual Experience (Appendix II),” is our sober-second-thought about AA. We note that, while “our more religious call it God-consciousness,” many AAs identify their sobriety as being a “personality change sufficient to bring about recovery from alcoholism… the ‘educational variety’… a profound alteration in his reaction to life…” and so on. 

Recovery can be pragmatic—or material vs. spiritual—if you prefer. This problem of group-think starts or at least is compounded with we-authorship. To quote AA Chair of the Board emeritus, Rev. Ward Ewing, as I am apt to do, “Experience trumps explanation.”[v] We all share the transformative experience from compulsive drinking to being freed from the bondage of addiction. Calling it a spiritual experience is an explanation which doesn’t help everyone identify. While many sincerely identify it as a spiritual experience, AA isn’t faith healing and it’s an established fact that conformity to a religious explanation of recovery isn’t necessary. To encourage conformity is not helpful and this misstep is front-of-mind for millennials. 

HOPE for a FUTURE that includes AA 

Baby Boomers threw an anchor in the water by declaring the writings of Bill W. to be sacred. I share the opinion that it was not Bill W’s wish to be reified as casting the final world, or a more precious word, than any other AA member. It’s not the founders that are to blame for resistance to change; it’s my nostalgia-snorting Baby Boomer generation that is the problem. 

I’ve asked before, “If the book Alcoholics Anonymous was a text book, wouldn’t it be updated every five years or so?” Grade Five math principles are largely the same today as they were in 1939. However, we change the books that each generation of students reads for good reason. 

If I sound nihilistic or defeatist, maybe I’m just trying to show that I can relate with Generation Z, the cool kids. They love that #post-apocalyptic stuff so maybe I played the prognosticator of hell-and-damnation a little heavy. The future is not predetermined. We aren’t held hostage, waiting for AA as a whole to change its editorial policy. There are things we can do today, at our home group. You and I can save the AA day. 

Four Ways to Save AA from Baby Boomers 

Save the day Action #1: Stop Reading from the Big Book at Open Meetings. August 2017 Grapevine has an article “Too Much Too Soon” suggests that reading “How It Works” at meetings “might not be best way to set newcomers on the right course… most newcomers don’t need to know all the Steps at their first meeting.” 

That’s a sober idea that sounds radical, only because of what you and I are accustomed to. If I stop reading from the Big Book at my home-group I eliminate a lot of we-talk. You don’t have to ban the book; just stop drowning our meeting in it. Dr. Bob got sober shortly after he talked to Bill W. Bill had no book, no Steps and no “How It Works” but the two men helped each other get and stay sober. 

In the absence of traditional readings, newcomers hear firsthand accounts—not we-talk. I might say that I read this-or-that in AA literature and how it helped me. So it’s not forbidden fruit. But leave the book on the library table for now—attraction rather than promotion. Curious minds will find it. 

Save the day Action #2: Focus sharing at meetings on personal experience. There is nothing sacred and nothing forbidden in how an AA meeting is formatted. There are no must or must-not rituals. Stop praying, stop saying “I’m ________ and an alcoholic”; any of these customary rituals are just that—not all of them were done in the meetings that got our founders sobers.

Here is a local example:

Toronto’s, We Are Not Saints Group lights up Friday night by opening with the AA Preamble, the chair identifies (an AA lead) for 2—3 minutes, then she asks for three topics from the floor, writes them down, passes around the paper with the topics, everyone can share or pass or talk about something else, the meeting closes with the Responsibility Declaration. If the Steps are talked about, it’s first person experience, not “we this,” or “we that.” If higher power is talked about, it’s a personal experience and not a “God as we understand Him.” 

AA literature is found at the library table next to coffee, tea and treats. Reading literature on one’s own time is encouraged but firsthand accounts dominate the meeting time instead of what one hundred now-dead white guys did 75 years ago. 

Save the Day Action Plan # 3: Stop quoting from the Big Book or 12 & 12. Why do I do that, anyway? It lends authority and I get to say “we” when I mean “I.” It’s sneaky, it’s inauthentic and it’s obvious what I’m doing and unattractive to today’s newcomer. 

It’s also unnecessary. If I say what I mean, in my own words, it may not be as articulate as Uncle Bill W but it’s sincere. People don’t remember what they heard; they remember how the meeting (members) made them feel. Memorizing what Bill wrote won’t leave an impression with the people who matter most—the newcomers. 

Save the Day Action Plan # 4: Don’t go away mad but start your own meeting with alternative readings and a coffee pot. There are plenty of books about alcohol use disorder written in this century; some of them are written by AA members who were just as sober and just as smart as any of our first members. The Rebellion Dogs bookstore has plenty of my favorites. I can find one of these books and read from it at my meeting or each week’s chair can pick any book or magazine article she likes. This isn’t blasphemous, it’s just an uncommon suggestion. 

From the General Service Office of AA, a clarification is made about this matter. 

“Conference Approved,” an often-misunderstood term, “does not imply Conference disapproval of other materials about A.A. A great deal of literature helpful to alcoholics is published by others, and A.A. does not try to tell any individual member what he or she may or may not read.”[vi] 

My meeting—and yours—is the highest authority in AA. If I can’t persuade my meeting to try another way of running the meeting for a trial period and see what happens, how am I going to persuade the General Service Conference? Write to your delegate; write to The Grapevine or your Intergroup newsletter; share this blog on Facebook; write your own blog. These are all worthwhile ideas. While you do that, I don’t want to think globally and forget to act locally. 

The AA way is that we share experience; we have no expertise to offer and we make no demands. 

If a better way works in even one group, it will catch on. AA was created by trial and error and our history is ongoing. We can still try new things without hyperbolic fear of ruining everything. I can ask myself, “Does what I say during our meeting resonate with the next generation? Is my meeting a welcoming place to the next generation?” 

That’s how I’m going to change AA. And if one change doesn’t have lasting impact, I’ll try another. It doesn’t matter to me what other groups read or say or pray. Let every member read every book that holds the key to sobriety for those members—or no book at all. 

I’ll try new things and see how people respond. Maybe I will ask you what you’re doing at your meeting and maybe I’ll try that next week. 

So, from a Baby Boomer, on how to save AA from Baby Boomers narcissistic nostalgia, there you have it; one meeting at a time, one member at a time. I don’t remember where this quote come from which I take artistic liberty with. I believe it has indigenous origins.

For me I will try to think of it as “We do not inherit AA from our founders; we borrow it from the next generation.” I will do my best to leave it in a better state of readiness than I found it in. 

Check out BOOMERVILLE: Musings on a Generation that Refuses to Go Quietly by Rosa Harris

PDF of this BLOG

[i] http://www.aa.org/assets/en_US/p-48_membershipsurvey.pd

[ii] http://www.pewresearch.org/fact-tank/2016/04/25/millennials-overtake-baby-boomers/ 

[iii] Joe C., Beyond Belief: Agnostic Musings for 12 Step Life, Toronto: Rebellion Dogs Publishing, 2013 (Preface) 

[iv] Wilson, Bill, Twelve Steps and Twelve Traditions, New York: AA World Service, 2012 

[v] AA Grapevine, “We Share Common Ground” October 2016 

[vi] http://www.aa.org/assets/en_US/smf-29_en.pdf

pics courtesy of circlerougestudios.com