Secular Sobriety Group First Anniversary

Ottawa

We heartily encourage secular groups to let others know about their meetings, as Michel has done, by writing about them and having the stories published in their local AA newsletters. This article was first published in the Ottawa Area Intergroup of Alcoholics Anonymous Newsletter, Our Primary Purpose, in February 2017.


By Michel D.

This article is both a history and an invitation. It is the history of the Sobriety Group, a secular AA meeting in Ottawa. It is also an invitation to join us to celebrate our 1 year anniversary. Read on!

It is with some trepidation that I helped start the group (with someone who had a change of heart and who stopped coming after a few weeks) on March 1st, 2016 after being a member of Uptown for 15 years. The Uptown group had been my first and only group since arriving from Toronto where I got sober and where I was a member of the High Park group for most of my first 15 years in the program. It is indeed with some reluctance that I left the group because I made some great friends there and was proud of the service that it does – Uptown has always had a GSR and an Intergroup representative. In fact, 3 of the last 5 DCMs for District 58 have been members of Uptown, and the group always participates at the Alkathon and service meetings in Ottawa (putting meetings on  at  the  Ottawa  Withdrawal  Management  Centre,  NewGate  180,  McNabb and Mamisavik (the Inuit recovery house).

But my desire to attend a discussion meeting as opposed to an open meeting won out. After trying to find a locale, I settled on the Sandy Hill Community Centre on Somerset Avenue in Sandy Hill. The group is somewhat distinct in many ways. First of all, the meeting takes place Tuesday at 7:00 PM. In addition, we do not recite the Serenity Prayer and we do not read the Twelve Steps or the Twelve Traditions. It is not that we are opposed to them, but since each group is autonomous within AA, we felt that people could recite the prayer and do those readings at other meetings.

Instead, we read the AA preamble, followed by the 12 promises before reading a chapter of the AA book Living Sober. We then spend the rest of the meeting discussing what we have just read. That book was chosen because it contains a wealth of practical tips on how to stay sober. It is a great way for newcomers to be introduced to AA and an equally great means for people with a bit more sobriety to be mindful of their alcoholism. We also differ from the majority of meetings in the Ottawa region in that we do not close the meeting with the Lord’s Prayer. Rather, we close with the Responsibility Declaration.

Now, I hear that the group has been described as “agnostic”, “atheist” or even “God-less”, usually by people who have never attended our meeting. Although it is true that we do not recite the Serenity or the Lord’s prayers (neither of which are AA approved by the way), it would be far-fetched to describe us as anything other than a good old AA meeting. In fact, the group does not have a position on religion since religion is an outside issue. We do not read any statement to the effect that this is a non-religious group and I would guess that most people who have attended our meeting in the past year probably did not even notice that we are religion-neutral. The best way to describe our group, if one must put a label on it, would be to say that we are a secular group, that is to say neither religious nor non-religious in the best spirit of AA’s traditions. Many who come to our meeting are religious people while some  are  agnostics, atheists and the rest have yet to make up their minds. The Sobriety group is simply made up of AA members who like to attend AA meetings without having to deal with religious connotations. And I am sorry to say that meetings where the Lord’s Prayer is recited are, albeit unintentionally, endorsing Christianity since it is a Christian prayer. The main motivation for the creation of the Sobriety Group was to be the most welcoming possible to ALL who have a desire  to  stop  drinking,  regardless  of  their religion and/or beliefs. I myself have been going to meetings for over 31 years where the Serenity Prayer and the Lord’s Prayer have been adopted and I have no issues with either. But I helped create the group because I felt that a newcomer would be more at ease talking about recovery and not having to join hands to recite a prayer that many have little knowledge of or appetite for.

After all, it is not about you and I, but about those who have yet to enter the doors of AA. I can tell you from long experience that for many younger people who have never set foot in a church, not to mention practicing Jews, Muslims, Buddhists or any followers of non-Christian denominations, that the Lord’s Prayer can be a major irritant. I firmly believe that for AA to continue to thrive, something that I very much care about because I want our program to be around for a very long time, we need to keep religion and sobriety separate. I am grateful for my sobriety, I love AA and it is in this spirit that the Sobriety Group of Alcoholics Anonymous was founded.

Now that you know a little more about our group, please feel free to come help us celebrate the first year anniversary of our group on February 28 at 7 pm at the Sandy Hill Community Centre. There will be great food, good company and sobriety to be had that night.

Thanks  to  everyone  who  has  attended  our  meeting  in  the  last  year and especially Dave B., Doris M. and Alicia D. who have been great supporters of our discussion meeting from Day 1.


Michel D. is 57 years old and has been sober since January 16, 1986. Michel has a lot of gratitude for AA because his life took a turn for the better, one day at a time, as soon as he attended his first meeting in 1986. From being a high school drop out, unemployed truck driver who had lost his driver’s license (drinking and driving), with no food in the house and rent unpaid, and with very few prospects when he arrived in AA, Michel now has a PhD, a job that he loves, the respect of his peers and colleagues and has two “sobriety” children (now two young men) who are the pride of his life. All thanks to AA. The program gave hope to Michel at a time when he had given up on life. Michel wants to give back to AA what was freely given to him and the creation of the Sobriety Group is but a small contribution in this regard.



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Secular Sobriety Group First Anniversary — 12 Comments

  1. Thanks. I’ve been going to AA meetings for over 30 years and always have identified as an atheist and shared as an atheist letting other new people know that one does not need a god in their life to stay sober. I tell them that praying to a god for what you want is a set-up for failure since 99% of the time what you pray for will not happen, and you’ll end up drinking out of disappointment. Just don’t drink no matter what and deal with your early past where you’ll find the reason why you drank in the first place. They should understand they did not drink to be happy, but to escape themselves. Drinking is not their problem, it’s become their default answer to escape the past they refused to face, which is their problem.

    • P.S. I started an atheist, agnostics meeting in So. Ca. It lasted 2 months. People said they didn’t want their friends to know they were attending otherwise they’d be ostracized from the regular AA meetings they go to, so they stopped coming. Most people won’t take responsibility for stopping drinking, they prefer to think they are victim of a disease and only god can cure them even though I point out that if Gods can cure them, then why doesn’t he cure people and children with cancer and other REAL DISEASES… they will then just become quite and walk away. I think they know I’m pulling their covers of being an innocent victim and they don’t want to face it.

  2. Hello Michel:

    Thank you for your article and congratulations on your group’s 1st anniversary. I am grateful for your service in keeping secular AA moving forward.

    I am curious about one of your comments regarding the lord’s prayer and the serenity prayer. There is no doubt in my mind the lord’s prayer is Christian and never was AA approved but was totally unaware that the serenity prayer was not AA approved. I was always led to believe it was adopted by AA to replace the lord’s prayer. Instead of replacing the lord’s prayer most groups just added it to their meeting formats and do both.

    Can anyone shed some light on this issue? Is the serenity prayer AA approved or not?

    At our men’ meeting (fellowship group) in Oliver, BC we don’t do any praying. We are not officially a secular group but chose to keep religiosity, prayer and theist dogma out of our format and discussions. We open and close the meetings with a minute of silence (for individual prayer, meditation or whatever). Seems to be working well for the past 2+ years.

    Looking forward to some feedback on the prayer question and thanks again Michel for your contribution.

    Mike B.
    Oliver, BC.

    • The serenity prayer has never been approved by AA’s general service conference – our ‘parliament’; but Bill W told a friend, ‘In creating AA the serenity prayer has been a most valuable building block, indeed a corner stone.’ The prayer is generally attributed to the Protestant theologian Rheinold Niebuhr, but versions have existed since a 5th century Roman philosopher voiced similar ideas. It was ‘adopted’ by AA after a member saw it in a New York newspaper obituary in 1942 and the then general service office began attaching it to correspondence with new members. In the 1940s AA in Britain decided not to repeat the Lord’s prayer and substituted the Serenity Prayer instead. Dartmoor Bill, an atheist and one of Britain’s pioneering AA members in the 1940s/50s, said even atheists and agnostics in the early London meetings were content to say the Serenity prayer at the end of meetings. There’s loads of stuff about the Serenity prayer on Wikipedia and the Hindsfoot websites.

  3. Our group, Beaches Agnostic & Free Thinkers, Atlantic Beach (Jacksonville area) celebrated two years in December. We were welcomed by our Intergroup and have a GSO number. We average 10-15 each Saturday morning. We also have a group, AA Agnostic, that meets at the Unitarian Church on Tuesday nites and they’re over 3 years.

    Keep up the good work.

  4. Thanks Michel,

    Funny how I had to cringe at my own fundamentalism when I read the expression “12 promises”, which, by the way I wouldn’t want to read because of the “god doing for us” part. Funny how none of the other fundamentalists are anywhere near as up in arms about making 12 out of the promises as they are about changing the steps even a little.

    Anyway, thanks for the story about your meeting. I think it is good to have a secular living sober meeting, will be much more inviting to the mainstream than the rather more ungodly meeting I started here in Mendocino County. Will have to think about that.

  5. Great article Michel, Any movement needs it’s agitators and ambassadors. Michel is one of our great ambassadors.

    A few years ago, Michel, Lisa and I were involved in an agnostic panel at an Ottawa Spring Roundup that had something for everyone; Clancy I, a Big Book study group, our agnostic panel and more. While we have the committee to thank for taking a chance, it was Michel’s ambassadorship that ushered it from fantasy to fact.

    Once again, “C’est bon Michel.”

  6. Many, many Happy Birthdays! I like your format, and especially like your and your group’s spirit of service. I was able to accept AA religiosity, which was milder when I staggered in, but I often wonder how many people in those days were turned off by the godcrap, continued drinking, and died too soon under pathetic circumstances.

    We’re making progress, finally, and have a good chance to help more of the 30% m/l of folks who aren’t religious, especially the young.

    I’m in Victoria, BC, right now, and apparently the fledgling secular AA meeting has folded, but they have many local SMART Recovery and LifeRing meetings.

    Wish I could come to your party, but can’t. Eat an extra piece of cake for me.

  7. Although secular AA is relatively small, it is growing. Two years ago this month I faced an odd choice as two new agnostic-friendly meetings started the same night, one in Mississauga (Toronto West), and one in Newmarket (directly north of the center of Toronto).

    Two years ago I went to Mississauga, and shared the excitement of that bit of history. Last year, and last night, I visited my Newmarket friends, where Grace was very graciously hosting the two year celebration.

    Three weeks ago, founder Craig C. spoke as our Whitby meeting celebrated three years of service, with 49 people in attendance.

    We are engaged in a noble cause, my friends, and it’s thrilling to be even a small part of all that.

  8. Excellent — thanks Michel !~!~!

    I particularly appreciate how the Sobriety Group is religious-neutral, concentrating solely on giving anyone, regardless of belief or non-belief, a meeting dealing with how to get sober, period…

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