Fortunately, I am able to enjoy stories firsthand at weekly meetings, but not everyone has that flexibility. SO, THINKING OF HOW OUR EXPERIENCE CAN BENEFIT OTHERS, PLEASE put something together and shoot it off for me to post at the email address below.
In gratitude for what we can do together, but cannot do alone,
JEB, Group Chairperson
It works. It really does!
It Was Him, Just a Bit Older and a Bit Closer to Death – Brett R.
A chance encounter with his future self-starts a Freethinker on the AA path full of experience, strength and hope, but free of gods and door knobs.
The room was nice in an institutional sort of way, which is to say, it was a cross between a college dorm and a general hospital. It’s a detox facility, and I’m told, as far as those go it’s quite nice. Nice in comparison to others anyway. I found the lack of freedom unbearable, and I felt trapped most of the five days I was there. But then I was experiencing what turned out to be drug induced psychosis due to withdrawal a good deal of the time, so who’s to say really. Perhaps I would have been equally miserable anywhere, though having just 30 minutes of visitor time a day to share with my wife, while I quite literally lost my mind and had my sense of self dissolve into something I didn’t recognize as anything I could call “me,” was difficult beyond words–for us both. That said, I needed to be there. Or at least I needed to be someplace like this, to safely medically detox from 20 years of heavy alcohol abuse. It was an experience I don’t wish on anyone, and if you’ve experienced it yourself, you know all too well.
I had known for many years that I had a problem, and over the years I had tried countless things to control my drinking. I had rules about the times I could drink, where I could drink, and with whom I could drink. I had point systems, I had special size vessels that kept my intake measured, I limited my purchases to no more than my “allotment” and I used other substances to reduce the urge. I did these, and many other things, all in an effort to control my drinking. But eventually, and sometimes this would take years, the rules would be broken, the systems would fail, and the substitutes would simply be the things I did while drinking or drunk. Despite this, every time, I was convinced that the next time would be different. This time I would figure out the trick to keep this thing under control.
But nothing was so predictably the same in my life. I would find a way to manage my drinking for a while, sometimes a long while, then alcohol would overtake me and each time it did would be worse than the last. This was the only difference with each of my attempts, the downfall was worse than the last time. And this time I was on the brink. I was on the brink of losing my job, a job I loved and which treated me well. I was on the brink of losing my wife, or possibly worse, keeping her while putting her through a progressively deteriorating living hell. I had already lost most of the rest of the things I had once cared about due to a brutal neglect fueled by alcohol, and I was finally on the brink of losing what remained.
It’s hard for a non-addict to understand why we alcoholics do this to ourselves, and to those we love. The truth is we’re baffled by this as well, which is why we can’t really provide a good answer when asked. But if you are an alcoholic, then it will come as no surprise to you that the grimness of my life at the time isn’t what made me come to the conclusion that I had to stop. That darkness just suggested to me that I had to try harder to control it this time. In the detox facility I was surrounded by well-meaning professionals, but they had little sway on me either. It was sharing my experience with another alcoholic, and listening to his story, that did the trick.
Sitting across from a man thirty years my senior, I saw myself staring back at me. The details of our lives were different in almost every way, but we were the same in a way that matters when seeking recovery–we were both alcoholics. Like me, this man had also done many things in an effort to control his drinking. In fact, this man had done virtually everything I had, and more that I hadn’t yet thought of. And here we sat. Alcohol had overtaken us both, as it had before many times. In his eyes I could see myself 30 years from now, and in my eyes he could see himself 30 years ago. Two drunks, different is so many ways, but able to instantly empathize with each other over the special relationship we each had with cunning alcohol.
Seeing my future embodied in another showed me that my efforts to control and manage alcohol were a fantasy, and one I had better give up quickly and wholeheartedly if I wanted to live. If it didn’t kill me outright, it would certainly rob me of a life. So I came to understand that this was it. I had a choice. I could stop, stop completely, and stop forever, or I could continue a path of misery culminating in my death, a path that would painfully harm everyone and everything that I cared about. That is, to the extent I cared about anything anymore.
Most of what I once was had withered beyond recognition. Withered, but not yet dead, and for that I am eternally grateful. With time left to do something different, I chose an alternate path. That morning, for the first time, I let go. I conceded to my innermost self that I am an alcoholic, my life had become unmanageable, and that on my own I am powerless to confront my addiction. And so I had come to the first step of Alcoholics Anonymous.
I went to my first meeting outside of detox knowing only that this first step was a foundation to a new way of life for me. The next week I was so full of the anxiousness and the emotional tidal wave that accompanies early sobriety, that thinking straight was often well beyond my ability. Just sitting in a room with other people was almost too much to bear much of the time. But what a relief! Here was a group of people that knew what I was going through, had gone through it themselves, and had found a way out.
Yet as my head cleared, and my journey continued, my relief turned to anguish. The first step was a revelation that changed my life, but in the second I was beginning to have trouble. I could see there is an absolutely invaluable core to AA, but I was one of the many that had a problem with the “God bit”. As such, I was positively giddy before reading the “We Agnostics” chapter of the Big Book–surely this would have an answer for me. But I was met with severe disappointment by its utter and complete inadequacy in addressing an atheistic or agnostic perspective. I was further frustrated by suggestions to choose anything to be my higher power, even a doorknob–for some reason, it more often than not seems to be a doorknob that is suggested when one doesn’t arrive with a higher power of their choosing already selected. It’s still not clear to me why anyone thinks that someone who has spent many hours contemplating the non-material and come out the other end an atheist is somehow more likely to believe in the supremacy of a mechanical latch than a god. Since the point is coming to believe that this thing just might work, choosing a doorknob as the object of this belief seems to be missing the point.
But this absurdity is possible because the unsaid assumption is that if you stick around and do the work, you’ll find “God,” that is you’ll find “God” or you will die. It’s a sort of high stakes “…you’ll understand when you grow up…” attitude. Though some folks will be quick to say the higher power can be of your choosing, there’s generally plenty of implication that your choice will be some form of intelligent active deity, often in an Abrahamic tradition. Others will be more explicit about it.
Yet I am convinced that this insistence on “finding God,” or sometimes having “God find you,” mistakes the means with the end. That is, “finding God” and turning your life over to “him” (third step now) is certainly an effective means to the end of getting outside yourself, but it is not the only one. While I believe overcoming our ego, letting go of our limitations, and in so doing finding relief from the “bondage of self” is key to recovery, I’ve found belief in a deity is unnecessary to achieve this. It is a way to get there, and one that works well for many believers, but it is not the only way.
At Freethinkers in AA, I’m not alone in this experience, but neither is it the universal view of the group. At Freethinkers we strive to follow the AA tradition of “…neither endorsing, nor opposing, any form of religion or atheism. Our only wish is to assure suffering alcoholics that they can find sobriety in A.A. without having to accept anyone else’s beliefs, or having to deny their own.” In doing so it is our hope to provide longstanding AAs who have hidden their true beliefs in the face of AA groups insistent upon a god with a safe place to be honest with themselves, and with others. We also hope to provide a welcoming environment for new AAs, and one that never pushes them away due to their belief system. And so, at Freethinkers, we have another key element of AA: fellowship, and a fellowship that does not require a god to be a member. Like AA generally, our only membership requirement is desire to stop drinking.
AA groups that insist on “God” work for many people, and there are other secular recovery options such as Lifering that work for others. But for me, Freethinkers in AA has been the right fit because it retains the invaluable and timeless lessons of AA, without forcing nonbelievers into a theistic belief system. It encourages us all to “take what you can use, and leave the rest” and in so doing, allows us to learn from each other, and from the millions of AAers around the world without insisting that anyone accept a deity, or for that matter, that they reject one. We are a group of alcoholics with a desire to stop drinking who have gathered together for sobriety and that hold no other affiliation as a group. We are AA, and we are AA without a god requirement–though if you have one, you are welcome to bring it with you to our meetings. For as is our responsibility, we want the hand of AA always to be there, whenever anyone anywhere reaches out for help, god or no god.
FOUR- YEAR ANNIVERSARY
This month, October 2017, Freethinkers in AA celebrates its 4-year anniversary of providing non-religious, non-prayer meetings to keep the welcoming doors of Alcoholics Anonymous open to all seeking recovery, regardless of belief or non-belief.
Like every other AA meeting, some return while others move on, but we hope that some are encouraged by what they found here, the kind of open-mindedness and accepting atmosphere that I believe Bill Wilson and others argued for year after year.
As I celebrate 39 years of continuous sobriety in August of this year, I have tremendous gratitude to all who endured and supported my progressive recovery from the seemingly hopeless ex-drunk who entered the rooms in Helena, Montana. Little did I realize that by adopting a new way of life, away from superstitious and magical thinking, Alcoholics Anonymous would really help me to grow into the man I am today, confident in my abilities as a recovered alcohol and nicotine addict.
In spite of the Denver Central Office manager still refusing to list our meetings in the local meeting directory, suffering or simply unhappy alcoholics manage to find us through search engines and word of mouth, believing there must be something out there where they can simply be honest about their disbelief, doubts and skepticism about the religious tone in so many meetings. When we started our weekly meetings, we had one agenda, the Declaration of Responsibility, which we should probably state in the plural: “We are responsible, whenever anyone, anywhere reaches out for help, we want the hand of AA always to be there. . and for that, we are responsible.” That’s truly what we are about, our Primary Purpose as an AA Group.
I continue to learn about myself from others in these meetings, about the dis-ease that expresses itself in addictions of so many kinds, underlining the necessity of at least trying to be consistently honest with myself and others, and using every day the practical tools AA has given me.
One day at a time, this program of action continues to give even more than I ever hoped for so many years ago, living proof that WE CAN DO TOGETHER WHAT WE CAN’T DO ALONE!
“The age of miracles is still with us. Our own recovery proves that!
Jeb B., Group Chairperson
Freethinkers in AA
THREE YEAR ANNIVERSARY
This month, October 2016, Freethinkers in AA celebrates its three-year anniversary, and what a great experience it has been for many who have entered the doors of AA through a non-prayer, secular meeting! Like every other AA meeting, some return while others move on, but hopefully encouraged by what they found here, the kind of open-mindedness and accepting atmosphere that I believe Bill Wilson and others argued for year after year, keeping the doors open to ALL. Celebrating 38 years of continuous sobriety in August, I have tremendous gratitude to all who endured and supported my progressive recovery from the seemingly hopeless ex-drunk who entered the rooms in Helena, Montana. Little did I realize that by adopting a new way of life, away from superstitious and magical thinking, Alcoholics Anonymous would really help me to grow up into the man I am today, confident in my abilities as a recovered alcohol and nicotine addict.
In spite of the Denver Central Office manager refusing to list our meetings in the local meeting directory, suffering or simply unhappy alcoholics manage to find us through search engines and word of mouth, believing there must be something out there where they can simply be honest about the disbelief, doubts and skepticism about the religious tone on so many meetings. When we started our weekly meetings, we had one agenda, the Declaration of Responsibility, which we should probably state in the plural: “We are responsible, whenever anyone, anywhere reaches out for help, we want the hand of AA always to be there. . and for that, we are responsible.”
In spite of my many 24 hours, I continue to learn about myself from others in these meetings, about the dis-ease that expresses itself in addictions of so many kinds, underlining the necessity of at least trying to be consistently honest with myself and others, and using every day the practical tools AA has given me.
One day at a time, this program of action continues to give even more than I hoped for so many years ago, living proof that WE CAN DO TOGETHER WHAT WE CAN’T DO ALONE!
Jeb B., Group Chairperson
Freethinkers in AA
My name is Maria and I am a member of AA. I am and always will be grateful to the fellowship and guiding steps and principles of AA which helped me achieve and maintain sobriety one day at a time thus far for two years.
Whereas I can honestly write the above, it’s true that from the start I had a hard time with the g-d thing. However, I was desperate to break free from my addiction to alcohol, so I “worked on it” and tried hard to “get it”.. My AA friends and sponsor told me not to worry, that “I’d get it eventually”. I felt deep inside that I never would “get anything” from this concept of g-d they all talked about as their own personal friend and answerer of prayers! I tried to not worry about it, I tried to fake it though I knew I’d never “make it”. I cried many a tear and fretted needlessly over the g-d thing for my first year. Somehow my sponsor shuttled me through the steps and I did get results with which I was OK and I remained sober and grew somewhat happier in life, on and off, bits at a time, here and there. Get the picture? Physically sober, but needing to get to work on emotional sobriety!