Two Things that Only Take Two: Tango and an AA Meeting


By Deirdre S.

“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.”
Tradition 3 (long form).

Find the need. Fill the need. It’s so easy even an alcoholic can do it. Sounds too easy? Of course it’s more complicated than that, but in a way it isn’t.

Questions about how to start a meeting come into the New York City AA Agnostics website every few weeks. Often it is asked by an individual who is frustrated by the pervasive notion that there is only one way to get and hold onto sobriety. That one way is often narrowed down to finding a Higher Power (HP) or “God, as we understood him.” While the concept was designed for wiggle room, it still can feel like it is dominated by that loaded word “God.”

So I developed an email that had a few hints about how to start a meeting. I have to admit, rigorously and honestly, that I have never founded a meeting! I’m sure that there are many with firsthand experience who can add to this conversation.

Takes Two

First thing I do is recommend that the person find a partner. If they haven’t found anyone in their area who is open about her/his beliefs or lack thereof, I suggest that they join one of the three Google Groups that I know about: Atheist AA or AA Atheists and Agnostics or the new Start with a Coffee Pot group. These lists have people from all over the world including, hopefully, someone from your local area. Minimum program is that they are places where a person can feel less isolated. Since each Google Group has its own personality, I suggest that all three be joined.

Agnostic GroupsAnother place to find a partner is at AA Agnostica.  Clicking on the image “Want an agnostic AA group in your town or city?” on the Homepage was launched in May, 2014.

It takes a person to a form that, when completed, can be shared with potential partners in the same region. It is a very practical and valuable resource that has helped people connect and start meetings throughout North America.

After finding a partner or two the next challenge is to find a place to meet. If you look through the Worldwide Agnostics AA Meetings list on our website you will see a wide variety of places. There are meetings in hospitals, churches, community centers, clubs, granges, recovery centers, lodges, rec centers, women’s centers, LGBT centers, lounges, libraries, union halls, YMCAs, senior centers, Men’s centers, cafes, American Legions, college campuses, government offices, restaurants, Quaker meeting houses, AA clubhouses, Convents, On-line Chatrooms, and even a place under a tree (Maui, Hawaii).

If that doesn’t work folks can do what Ada H., David L., and John Y. did when they found each other and formed the first agnostic AA meeting in New York City, meet in an apartment or house. (See A History of Agnostic Groups in AA for a history of agnostic AA.)

The Meeting

If you get this far I think it’s a great idea to read the AA pamphlet – The A.A. Group: Where It All Begins. I recently re-read it and there is lots of AA wisdom in those pages. Some advice may feel like too much when you are just launching a meeting, but it’s good to know.

I suggest that people take a look at various sample scripts to see how others are opening and closing their meetings. Meeting scripts and formats are available here: How to Start an AA Meeting.

Because it is an AA meeting it is important to include the AA Preamble. At meetings I attend a “volunteer” is drafted to read the Preamble.

There are several types of meetings including but not limited to:

Speaker meetings: where one person shares their experience, strength and hope with the group (known as qualifying).

Topic meetings: where a member shares on a particular topic to spark discussion.

Literature meetings: Various types of literature can be used that have to do with alcoholism. The AA publication “Living Sober” is very helpful and written from a secular perspective. It can be found in the AA Catalog under Booklets item number (B-7).

Step Meetings: These can be held at any time; however there is a tradition of sticking to the “Step of the month;” Step One in January, Two in February etc. I have used many versions of the Steps when I have participated or conducted these meetings including the original AA 12 Steps. There are many individual interpretations of the 12 Steps by atheists, humanists, buddhists, counselors, etc. available online here and on this website here: Alternative 12 Steps. There are others I have found in books such as The Alternative 12 Steps: A Secular Guide To Recovery, by Martha Cleveland & Arlys G., A Skeptic’s Guide to the 12 Steps, by Phillip Z. and, most recently, by Roger C.: The Little Book: A Collection of Alternative 12 Steps.

Building the Meeting

Many people make up fliers about the new meeting and start announcing it at AA meetings in their area during the 7th Tradition/Secretary’s Break under “AA related announcements.” One can also place advertisements in the local paper or in humanist / skeptics and related newsletters. That technique is still used throughout AA and is not considered promotion.

Recently there was an article in the New York Times about “no prayer” meetings in AA.  It was in this article: Alcoholics Anonymous, Without the Religion.

Listing the Meeting

Listing the meeting can provide its own challenges. The first step is the fill out a “New Group Form” and mail it to General Services Organization (GSO) so that the group is added to the national list that the A.A. Organization provides to its members and others. This will mean that you have to have a person agree to be the General Service Representative (GSR). The mailing address is on the form.

The next step is to get listed locally at the Intergroup or Area District Committee Member. A phone call to AA’s GSO at 212-870-3400 or to local information will get you those contacts.

Many groups have had no trouble getting their meetings into local Intergroups if one exists in your area. Some groups have had difficulties. The reason to try is because “no prayer” meetings are and have been part of AA for decades. The original founders of agnostic type meetings believed strongly that staying in AA was vital. Agnostic, freethinker, atheist, humanist, and “no prayer” meetings have been part of the national conferences for years and often draw huge crowds. The groups have been listed nationally. And while there have been setbacks and delays efforts are being made to have a new piece of AA literature that talks about our experiences getting sober and staying in AA.

We are part of AA and as a “special interest group” deserve to be listed.

A mentor once told me to be “Mild in manner, but bold in matter.” Give that a try as you approach your local Intergroup.

If you want other alcoholics in your meetings who have a place to get sober, getting listed is important. But that said, if you find that the local leaders block your meeting, do not despair. Being listed at the GSO level is good and keeping that listing up to date with changes of time and place is important. AA as an organization changes very slowly, but they do change.

Please make certain to get your meeting listed on the Worldwide Agnostic AA Meetings list  by emailing us at That listing is kept as accurate as possible, so if you change any details of your meeting tell us too.

The Meeting after the Meeting

At my first “no prayer” meeting one of the long-time members turned to me and asked me if I wanted to go out to dinner with the group. I’d been to other meetings, but never been asked to do anything social. I said, “No.” On my lonely walk back home I wondered why I’d turned down the chance to be social in a new way that didn’t involve alcohol. I vowed to say yes the following week and I’ve been saying yes to fellowship after the meetings ever since.

That is why I think it is important to make a general announcement about going out for coffee or food as part of the script. It helps make newcomers feel that they do not have to be part of the “in” group to get invited to coffee or food.

I’m sure I’ve left something out and I encourage folks to comment below to fill in any blanks I may have left.

Congratulations on the steps you are making. I know that sobriety profoundly changed my life for the better and that my continued association to AA has made all the difference. Good luck!

Deirdre S. lives in NYC where she once drank and drugged and now doesn’t. She got sober in AA in February 1997 with the help of friends and strangers. One day she found her way into an agnostic AA meeting and discovered a home. Deirdre is currently the webweaver of the website. She is happily married to the man who originated the website in 2002, a fellow atheist in AA. Deirdre is a writer and filmmaker, two careers that she fantasized about while sitting around in bars and only could make a reality after she sobered up.

15 Responses

  1. Pat N. says:

    Great article, Deirdre, and many thanks to the New Yorkers who started/maintain the international list of secular meetings. I got to go to a meeting at a GLBT center in NY in 2001 thanks to it, and you’re right: the ice cream orgy afterwards was a major part of the experience.

  2. Joe C says:

    I love your writing voice, Deirdre. Easy reading can be difficult writing; I am sure it’s not effortless so I hope you know it is appreciated.

    Being part of a group helps us and it helps others. Helping others is so easy to do and for me, it is so healing. Freedom from the bondage of self – I just can’t seem to accomplish this on my own time, in my own headspace. As I got more active in service, from my home group business meeting to General Service and then to committees and conventions, I was surrounding myself with other people who were helping other people. These people have been a good influence on me. Service (starting a meeting or getting active with AA as a whole) has been at least as significant as far as my mental health is concerned as Step work or any other personal care.

    If someone reading Deirdre’s post is inspired to start a new meeting or get active in an existing one, “you will be amazed before you are half way though,” as they say.

    Our home group was conscious to find a meeting space that was not a place of worship (formal religion). Schools, libraries or community centers help give the recovery process more of an “educational” feel to it.

    Thanks again Deirdre.

    • Deirdre says:

      Thanks Joe! I totally agree that surrounding myself with people who help others has been a life-changing turnaround. Thanks for all the work you do.

  3. Thomas B. says:

    Thanks so much Diedre for an excellent, informative, and, yes Joe, most easy to read article. I was gifted with recovery from addiction in Manhattan AA for the first seven years of my continuing recovery process back in the 70s. I’ll be back in New York in September and look forward to experiencing a couple of the WAFT meetings there, as well as visiting some of the meetings that were instrumental in me becoming rooted in the essence of New York recovery — not picking up, going to meetings and helping others.

    I’m also greatly anticipating the November first international gathering in Santa Monica. Though some may be threatened by us, as happened with Jim Burwell in the original New York City group meeting in Bill and Lois’ basement in the 1930s, we shall prevail and continue to evolve, as we historically always have, in accordance with common AA practice within our Traditions and Concepts of Service.

    Thanks for your service to our growing community . . .

    • Deirdre says:

      Thanks Thomas! I hope to see you in September. We’ve got a bunch of meetings in New York City. It basically removes the excuses that some people have to getting sober. You want an agnostic-type meeting how about any day of the week and four of five boroughs?

  4. Mike P. says:

    Great post. I have a friend in Florida (I live in Tennessee) and this might be a way that we might be able to have a “virtual” meeting.

    • life-j says:

      Mike, remember we also have live online chat here at aaagnostica – every day at 530 pm pac time/ 830 eastern. Bring your friend.

  5. Denis K says:

    Thank you for this wonderful article Deirdre; I am forwarding this along to the members of our 3 Agnostic meetings here in Vancouver and a couple of closeted groups I am aware of here in BC for their reference.
    We are seeing significant numbers of people showing up at our Vancouver groups which tells me there is certainly a need for more groups with varied formats to keeping AA interesting and fresh.
    Especially appreciated is your reference:

    There are meetings in hospitals, churches, community centers, clubs, granges, recovery centers, lodges, rec centers, women’s centers, LGBT centers, lounges, libraries, union halls, YMCAs, senior centers, Men’s centers, cafes, American Legions, college campuses, government offices, restaurants, Quaker meeting houses, AA clubhouses, Convents, On-line Chatrooms, and even a place under a tree (Maui, Hawaii).

    Our newest group, one month old, named “Beyond Belief” meets in the Qmunity Centre in Vancouvers Gay Village. The group was founded by both gay and straight alcoholics and has a following of 20 people attending each meeting in spite of our local intergroup banning our meetings from the AA meeting directory. When people are impressed, word of mouth is our best message carrier.
    Thank you again Deirdre, and thanks to everyone who contributes to these adult, intelligent and open minded discussions here at aaagnostica.

    • Deirdre says:

      Thanks for forwarding this Denis! I was kind of amazed when I reviewed the list and saw the wonderful variety of places that people have found for meetings.

  6. Deirdre says:

    Thanks Pat! I’m glad you got to go to one of our NYC meetings. Of course 2001 was a very hard year in the City. September 11th fell on a Tuesday, the night of my home meeting.

    People from the meeting called each other to see if we lost anyone. Luckily, we had not lost anyone from the agnostic AA meetings. However everything below 14th Street was in lockdown. Our meeting was at the LGBT Center on 13th Street and they were closed.

    Those who could came together in a diner just above 14th for dinner and an informal meeting. It was just after that that Charles P. floated the idea of having a website where NYC member could check and see if a meeting was happening or not.

    And that is how came about.

  7. Svukic says:

    Why is it important to include the preamble? Who decided this and why? I have never read in any of the “normal” AA literature that one has to read the preamble at every meeting.
    If I started a meeting I would definitely not include it.
    Who needs to hear the same words over and over? Why? It’s wasted time that could be used better to help people attending instead of what adds up to being self-promotion.
    For example, if I’m right about the your “preamble”, it would include all of the Twelve Steps as originally written, even though they are only a “suggested” course, as the author wrote.
    Replacing these with the Alternative set would not make me feel better – everyone gets to the Steps when and how they individually do, and if the group is a cohesive and healing one, there is no reason to throw the 12 steps at everyone at every meeting for the sake of roping in newcomers or whatever.
    Isn’t the fact that two or more alcoholics coming together to help eachother recover from this terrible spiritual illness enough? Why does it have to be pre-defined further to make it an AA meeting?
    In the Alternative 12 Steps Martha Cleveland writes that each person’s recovery journey is unique. Why do we feel the need to standardise all members even when they are not ready, or even when they should be given respect for their own approach to recovery in AA?
    All such proclamations start sounding like dogma and hence initiate both exclusion and complacency.

    • Roger says:

      Here’s the AA Preamble, Svukic:

      Alcoholics Anonymous is a fellowship of men and women who share their experience, strength and hope with each other that they may solve their common problem and help others to recover from alcoholism.

      The only requirement for membership is a desire to stop drinking. There are no dues or fees for A.A. membership; we are self-supporting through our own contributions. A.A. is not allied with any sect, denomination, politics, organization or institution; does not wish to engage in any controversy, neither endorses nor opposes any causes. Our primary purpose is to stay sober and help other alcoholics to achieve sobriety.

      I am rather fond of it. It does not include the Twelve Steps, nor does it initiate complacency or exclusion. I think it is an excellent way to launch an AA meeting.

    • Jim H. says:

      Group conscience decides.

    • Deirdre says:

      I do happen to like the AA Preamble. I also like the description of the agnostic meetings that are read at the meetings I’ve gone to. Some meetings do begin with a long series of readings, the Preamble, the Steps, and “How it Works” (which I am not fond of at all).

      I had a lot of assumptions about what AA was when I walked into the rooms. I think a lot of newcomers have the same and that an orientation as part of the opening helps clear up some of the mystery. I think that the Preamble helps in the demystifying process.

      If I made it sound mandatory, sorry. Yes, the group decides.

      I believe that as part of AA we should use all the tools that are helpful to us and to the strength and vitality of the meeting. I believe the Preamble is part of that. It’s useful and it’s an acknowledgement of our being part of AA. Sometimes others will try to deny that we are “real AA”, but we are.

  8. Michael says:

    Great article. One of the most memorable AA meetings I attended was in Barcelona and only two of us showed up. By the end of our hour together we were holding hands and shed some tears. Amazing experience to have a very difficult day, alone in a foreign culture and to be able to find this kind of support and love.

    Good thing to remember for atheists and agnostics who might feel isolated somewhere. All it takes is two people, sit down somewhere and share your experience, strength and hope.

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