We are unstoppable


By Dave S.

I had my last drink on February 28, 1984. Within my first year I became aware that, for lack of a better term, I was a nonbeliever. At the time it seemed that in order to be a “real” member of AA I was ultimately going to have to come to believe in a Judeo-Christian God. At the time I became aware of my nonbeliever status I trusted it, but I stayed open to becoming religious. Truth be told, I am still open to it, but it’s been 30 years so while I’m open to it I’m pretty sure it isn’t going to happen.

I didn’t struggle with my lack of belief. My sponsor for the first nineteen years of my sobriety was Dr. Earle M., author of “Physician Heal Thyself” in our big book. I was self employed and he was retired so over those years we spent hundreds and hundreds and hundreds of hours together. His message to me was that I was perfect the way I was and that there are as many programs of AA as there are members of AA, so whatever I believed or didn’t believe was totally acceptable and as I like to say, more than anything else, he allowed me to find my own way. He passed away on January 13, 2003. In a very real way he is still my sponsor and I am virtually certain I will never have another.

I heard about Toronto in bits and pieces at first and was appalled. I subscribed to AA Agnostica and in one post I got a link and sent an email and the next thing I know I’m talking with the people that were putting on the WAAFT convention. My friend Russ H., who contributes here beautifully and succinctly did the same and shortly thereafter he told me he was going to start a We Agnostics Meeting.

We were both extremely enthusiastic. Over the years I had always been fairly vocal about my lack of belief. The thing was that I was always looking for a way to voice my thoughts without offending the believers. While that sounds like a nice thing, and I got pretty good at it, in a very real way I had a sense it was something less than genuine. With Toronto, the upcoming convention, the vast numbers of people I had spoken with over the years about lack of belief I made a conscious decision to find a “bigger” voice when it came to talking about this issue.

I have lived in the same county where our “central office” is located for the entirety of my sobriety and I have been active all that time, so I know a lot of people and I am known. I have never been an intergroup or general service “type.” I have never had the mind set, dedication or patience to do those AA chores. I had done them, simply because I felt I at least needed to give it a shot, but they are not my cup of tea.

Russ H. got the ball rolling as our Intergroup requires that a proposed new meeting fill out a form which is to be submitted to the office manager “special worker” at the physical location of our central office. The form is fairly innocuous, he filled it out and the special worker refused to list the meeting.

Here is where the craziness really started. Our Intergroup has bylaws and an operating manual. I am a lawyer by trade so I started looking at those documents to try and figure out what was happening (I had been involved in a similar skirmish years before when Intergroup attempted to delist a meeting that a friend of mine had begun so I knew a little bit about the process).

As I looked at the documents it appeared that there were significant conflicts between the two documents and that the bylaws should prevail as those were the way in which the Intergroup came into existence.

Further, the way the procedure was set up, once the special worker refused to list the meeting then the Intergroup Operating Committee would review the materials and if they then refused to list the meeting, then the meeting was required to make a presentation to Intergroup at large and after a two-month discussion/waiting period, a vote would be taken and in order to list the meeting we needed a 2/3 yea vote to get listed. This seemed daunting and impossible. To generalize maybe unfairly, my experience was that people who get involved in Intergroup / General Service are generally conservative and the likelihood of getting a 2/3 vote seemed unattainable.

After the special worker refused to list the meeting, the question of listing the meeting went to the Intergroup Operating Committee and they too declined to list the meeting so we were now faced with a difficult road which we didn’t think we could successfully travel.

Russ and I believed that we had to try to change the procedure to have any chance. We first approached the Intergroup Operating Committee and we asked to be allowed to make a presentation to that Committee (they meet privately and secretly which is a whole other issue). They agreed and one evening, armed with handouts and their own documents I pointed out many ways in which the bylaws were inconsistent with the operating manual and I suggested that a committee be formed to study this issue and report to the operating committee and Intergroup at large to make proposed changes. I told them that I felt the most egregious situation was the absolute power of one person, the special worker, to decide if a meeting is or is not listed. I further requested to be on that committee. I was then thanked and told I could leave.

They formed a committee, did not ask me to be on it and in executive session they took the power of the special worker to make the decision to list the meeting away from him/her and placed the same power with the Intergroup Operating Committee… the one that meets privately and secretly. That change was announced at the next meeting of Intergroup. A motion was made by Russ H. that if the IOC decided not to list a meeting that a reason had to be given to the meeting itself and Intergroup at large. While a vote was taken on that motion, it is still in limbo as we are having some difficulty in determining what is a 2/3 vote if there are abstentions (Remember, I am not making any of this stuff up).

We were out of options. The only chance we had was to make a presentation to Intergroup as a whole, the intergroup representatives then would take the issue back to their groups, the groups would discuss it for two months and we would then have a vote of the intergroup representatives.

Russ and I discussed this and we decided that I would be the one to make the presentation so I got started on a draft. I felt it was important to read from a prepared text so I would know what I had said. Russ and I worked on the text and ultimately we had what we felt was our best shot. I brought enough copies with me to give at least one to every intergroup representative in attendance (about 50-65 as I recall). I didn’t want them to tell their groups something that I said that I hadn’t said. It was a 15 minute presentation filled with quotes from our literature, quotes from Bill W., quotes from other AA luminaries. We felt it logically and forcefully made the case that AA not only allows things like this to happen, it encourages them. This is supposed to be a big tent, not a small one, that we are inclusive, not exclusive.

After the presentation [you can read it here: Presentation to Intergroup] there were questions and on that night, every question came from someone who was clearly opposed to the existence of our meeting. Our intergroup meets on the fourth Tuesday of every month (except December) and our presentation was made at the end of October. We had another meeting at the end of November and this issue was discussed again. At the November meeting it was totally different. Many people spoke in support of the meeting and the idea of the meeting. After the meeting people came up to both Russ and me and apologized for putting us through this wringer. It was a love fest but nonetheless I still didn’t think there was much of a chance.

It was at this point that something happened. A large number of involved AA people got behind us. These were not fellow travelers, they were people who believed in big G God, that prayed and meditated. They were normal AA people who understood that AA is the AA that many of us know. The AA that doesn’t restrict beliefs, the AA that tells each and every newcomer that we have been waiting for them to arrive and that we are ecstatic now that they are here, the AA that means it when it says the only requirement for AA membership is a desire to stop drinking.

We heard rumors, both good and bad, of what was happening in the trenches. We thought we were going to “win”. We thought we were going to “lose”. By this time though I’m pretty sure that both Russ and I had decided we had, had enough. That win or lose this fight was over, that we didn’t have any energy to go further as it had been so long in coming. By the night of the vote our meeting had been in existence 18 months (and flourishing, by the way).

On January 27, 2015, the vote was taken. Preliminarily the mechanics of the vote was discussed, the voting eligible members had been tallied and it was determined that we needed 47 votes to get our 2/3 majority. The “yeas” were asked to stand and we then counted down. By the time we were done counting there had been 54 yea votes cast. Russ and I were both stunned. The final count was 54 yeas, 12 nays and 2 abstentions. On the next published meeting schedule for Contra Costa County of California (east San Francisco Bay) our meeting will be listed.

The post script on this for me is a complete change of perception. When I started out I felt this was us against them. The “us” was the liberal, inclusive, non believing, third tradition “correct” minority members of AA. The “them” was the conservative, restrictive, God believing purist majority of AA. What I am now convinced of is that while there is a “them” it is not a majority, but it is loud. I am hopeful that most AA members want to give us our space and our due. Whether that is because of apathy or sincere belief doesn’t matter I don’t think. The Live and Let Live slogan is alive and well and we are finding our voice more and more as time goes by.

We are unstoppable.

Dave S. is a sober member of Alcoholics Anonymous who attended 1,000 meetings in his first two years of sobriety and currently regularly attends six meetings per week. He describes his involvement in Alcoholics Anonymous as the greatest passion of his life. He came to terms with his status as a non-believer when he was about six months sober. He has always been vocal about his non-believer status in and out of AA meetings. He met his sponsor when he was 35 days sober and describes him as the greatest human being he ever met. They spent hundreds and hundreds of hours together over a 19 year period until his sponsor died on January 13, 2003.  

31 Responses

  1. Edward C. says:

    Hay (or Hey if you prefer) Sorta sad however more and more I consider myself an alumnus of AA – I have graduated with over 20 yrs clean – sober – nicotine free. As an alumnus I do still hang around, sometimes chair our local meeting at the VA hospital – care to serve my fellow veteran – I now refuse to stand in a circle that uses the lord’s prayer – I am a radical agnostic – I dont know and neither do you. Yes you have the right to have faith and believe – I just happen to believe it is so much BS and I mostly opt out of AA at this time – I do support the idea of Agnostica – yup im a bit bitter this morn – Eddie C AKA fast eddie.

  2. John L. says:

    This is a heartening article. Yes, many and probably most AA members will support us if we give them a chance. Live and Let Live!

    Dave S. was lucky to have Dr. Earle M. as his sponsor. Dr. Earle’s book has an honored place in my personal library. Here’s what I wrote about it in the Bibliography of my book:

    Dr. Earle M. Physician, Heal Thyself! CompCare Publishers. Minneapolis 1989.

    This is a good, if rather rough, book. Dr. Earle joined A.A. in 1953, and his story, “Physician Heal Thyself”, appears in the 1955 edition of the Big Book. Dr. Earle had a fascinating life in sobriety. He is committed to the biogenic approach, and speaks highly of Dr. James Milam. He gives a good critique of the Big Book.

    • Lon Mc. says:

      In 1961 Dr. Earle M. was one of my teachers in medical school. He gave a lecture on alcoholism to the entire Junior Class each year, with an emphasis on Alcoholics Anonymous. He was also the clinical instructor supervising about six of us who were training on the gynecology service. I was not aware that I was an as yet unaffected incubating alcoholic at that time; but my notes from his lecture seemed to “know” it. They are the only notes of mine that survived from medical school, and are folded in my “Big Book,” an acquisition I found useful for my kick start in sobriety in November, 1983.

      • John L. says:

        Good you heard Dr. Earle’s lecture, which may have incubated inside you, along with alcoholism. Perhaps it saved your life. I’ve just re-read Dr. Earle’s book, and found it even better the second time around. If he were alive today, he would be writing for AA Agnostica.

  3. John F says:

    This proves that AA can continue to grow and become all inclusive. Being “listed” allows members to attend or not attend as their conscience dictates! Dave S., has moved AA forward!

  4. Ed W. says:

    I see it on the list: http://www.cc-aa.org/aa/docs/MeetingSchedule_WestCentral.pdf (Mondays 5:30p). Congratulations!

    I think we have many friends within Team “G” who understand the principles set forth by Bill, Bob, Jimmy B., others… “Have faith,” as they say, we’ll get on ALL the lists. 🙂

  5. Boyd P. says:

    Congratulations Dave S.

    “Perseverance furthers” according to the I Ching. You worked the often anarchic processes within AA. Victory is satisfying, but will it endure, much less flourish? “The postscript… for me is a complete change of perception.” “… most AA members want to give us our space and our due.”

    Our perceptions matter, but they are incomplete, often wrong and always open to question. Therefore, we MAY be unstoppable, but humility suggests if we fail it will likely be because of our character defects. At our best we are irresistible.

  6. Glenn G. says:

    Great article and I’m so glad that it worked out for you.

  7. Mary Paige R. says:

    Congratulations to you and Russ’ fine efforts to advance acceptance into the year 2015. This is huge in my humble opinion. When I speak I share that the 3rd step needs to be re-written to “G*d as I don’t understand It” and that the Big Book has a chapter entitled “The Agnostics” not To The Believers… for a reason!

    I believe in love and this is enough.

  8. Glenn G. says:

    Congratulations! After attending the WAAFT convention in Nov I came back and started a meeting in December here in Atlantic Beach FL. I registered with NY, we attended the next intergroup meeting and got registered there. We are now listed on both websites’ meeting lists and actually got our first “walk in” who found us on the web this weekend:) Even though we are in “the south” we’ve been welcomed and encouraged by almost everyone.

    Attending the WAAFT convention showed me I wasn’t alone and I’m so grateful to the organizers and people who attended. My recovery has been reenergized and I feel SOOO much more a part of now!!

  9. wisewebwoman says:

    Thank you Dave, this came at a timely point in my own AA experience as I am in an extremely isolated area and the only female AA member amongst Xtian BB thumpers where the LP was recently reinstated, I had fought long and hard for the inclusive Responsibility Pledge.

    I never imagined my AA life as being this isolated and as we are so small I chair meetings frequently and have to bite down hard on the Godstuff.

    Thanks for yanking me out of the feelings of hopelessness that have overwhelmed me recently.

  10. Alyssa (soda) says:

    U r an inspiration Dave S. & I was 2 years old when you got sober 😉 It’s amazing how you kept confident in your non-believer mentality within the walls of AA. U must have wonderful people skills for you and Russ to get people to back you. I aim to enhance these skills as well.

    Thx 4 contributing to the next generation who won’t even enter AA unless they hear about groups like ours.


    PS. Similar to your sponsor who passed on wisdom to you, I too had someone very dear to me, whom I will carry on his message. Pretty neat feeling.

  11. Pat L. says:

    I’m lucky to be a friend of Dave S and part of the Lafayette meeting. I’m also relieved that a WAAFT meeting has been started (January 23,2015) in Santa Cruz where I live now. As far as I know there was never any resistance to the meeting. It’s been announced at meetings, listed in the meeting list for the county and noted in the newsletter from Central Office. I was struggling with the strong Christian tone of my regular meetings. I didn’t know how difficult it was until this meeting started; I feel like I finally have a home group. I share 1984 with Dave as my sobriety year.

  12. life-j says:

    some parts of liberal northern California are more liberal than others, to be sure. As can be read in Another Intergroup Fight we didn’t have the the same luck here in Laytonville. Three members of intergroup managed to stack intergroup with their own, and after 14 months of fighting I just had to turn it over to their higher power.
    What’s more, intergroup turned fundamentalist after this fight, a complete backlash happened, all the liberal folks left intergroup, a number of whom had been working on it for years in some capacity, and i hear they now end it with the LP instead of the responsibility pledge.
    We can all rest in the happy knowledge that god is once more safe from the onslaught of heathens.
    As for the meeting itself:
    had some good attendance, even from quite far away in the beginning, but as most nonbelievers are rather old (I think the young people who are nonbelievers simply dont bother with AA these days) attendance waned, and then i got cancer, and have had to keep it shut down for a number of months. hope to open up again in another month or two, my surgery was supposedly successful, at least for the near future. will move the meeting to late afternoon to allow the old folks to get home in daylight, which will probably get them to attend.
    As for intergroup, though, I have just had to write it off. too bad that our traditions didn’t somehow safeguard against this sort of abuse of power. Each group is autonomous seems to be interpreted such that intergroup is autonomous too, and thus can wield poert over the whole area, while up to this point it had simply been a service body, taking care of publishing a schedule where groups were listed at their own request, and the disclaimer on the back of the schedule that this did not imply any sort of endorsement was clearly not enough for the god people. censorship was in order.
    I don’t know how we can fight this phenomenon whereby intergroup grabs all this power. I imagine that if it is brought to world conference they will not give two shits about it if they know that the real reason it is brought there is that they are stiffling the nonbelievers. they’ll just say more power to them.
    A fine bunch of openminded, spiritual folks we’re in bed with here!

  13. Jeb B. says:

    Thanks for all you did to gain the kind of acceptance that should or could have been there in the first place, but it is good to know that your persistence and commitment has paid off. Those who place any kind of restrictions upon group listings not only violate traditions, but also narrow the broad highway the majority of our members need in order to find their unique path in recovery. Even the “special worker” in the Denver area continues to deny us listing, our online presence at FreethinkerinAA.org makes it possible for new people to find us every week. We too are unstoppable!

    • Rich H says:

      The “Special Worker” needs to be challenged. Do what Dave did. You will most likely get the same result. We are not 2nd class AA’s.

  14. life-j says:

    Dave, I would like to have the speaker tape with Nancy that you refer to.

  15. Faith R. says:

    Read your article with great interest. We got a “We Agnostics” meeting started in Palm Springs at the end of Dec 2014 after getting a great boost from the WAAFT Convention. What you relate is like our experience only yours is more involved and took more commitment. Thank you for your persistence. I do believe that much comes to those of us who persist, particularly for secular AA. We also experienced much skepticism initially and kept presenting our idea for a meeting to various groups (we had the good fortune of being able to line up several presentations in quick succession and learn from each encounter). The more times we spoke, the more we were accepted. Also, our Central Office and the head of our Intergroup were very supportive. As soon as we got a place to have our meeting, we were listed! It feels great to have a meeting where we focus on what we need to do to stay sober with reliance upon ourselves and one another rather than some outside source.

  16. Mark In Texas says:

    Thank you Dave S., for your account of the difficulties you guys faced, fought, and overcame in the process of getting listed with your Intergroup.

    The printed statement to the Intergroup is worth careful consideration by all of us looking down the road of WAAFT growth, in the context of often frustrating foot-dragging, religious prejudice, and absurd obstruction.

    I like the point you made that many of the Big G folks actually are our comrades in arms on the issue of WAAFT style groups. That is, once they are given the opportunity to view the matter from a wider perspective.

    Thanks again for your encouraging post.

    Mark C.

  17. Sasha says:

    Thanks, Dave- an excellent article. The drama that unfolds in my neurotic imagination has been tamed and diluted by your dignified and hard-won effort, and your comments on “us” v. “them”. Much better example than that prompted by my fearful thinking!

  18. Thomas B. says:

    Indeed, congratulations for your perseverance and persistence that in the end yielded desirable results. A most important reality is that most Secular or WAAFT meetings are listed throughout North America. This is the prize that I want to focus on, because like you initially I have a knee-jerk tendency to frame this as an “us” vs. “them” issue. Though, indeed, there are places where this is more a prevailing reality, I am surely coming to trust that if we continue speaking our secular truth with love and tolerance for those who are not able to respond to us thusly, we shall continue to remain unstoppable.

    I’ve been at PRAASA, the Pacific Regional AA Service Assembly, the past three days, and though initially somewhat ambivalent, I am at the close convinced that it truly is not an us vs. them dynamic. Rather, a sizable portion of the G-folks do respect and welcome us with our different beliefs or lack of beliefs as much as those who share their belief.

    An hour ago I experienced the former PRAASA Trustees panel consisting of 10 members, 6 men and 4 women. Of the ten, 1 followed a non Christian belief and four identified as agnostic or atheist. Three commented that the “Many Paths” pamphlet wandered far off the beam of what initially was had been proposed and intended. I am quite impressed.

    I am re-committed to working within the AA service structure to voice our needs and concerns, especially since one of the most perceptive remarks I heard from one panelist is that “In AA it takes two years to make a cup of instant coffee . . . ;)” That’s just what it is, and your article admirably demonstrates that perseverance and persistence, do indeed pay off. Thanks again !~!~!

  19. Tommy H says:

    Great story.

    Your early experiences in A.A. paralleled mine.

  20. Dan V says:

    Congratulations on your listing. This thing of ours is unstoppable and always has been. Sometimes quickly sometimes slowly. Thanks for keeping the faith.

  21. Glenna R. says:

    You did a wondeful job, Dave and Russ, and your work and account gives us all some hope which we need to deflect the bitterness that could overcome us at this stage – the kind of hope we initially found in AA. Thanks so much. Glenna.

  22. Rick H says:

    Great job guys!

    I have been struggling with my own beliefs in AA when it comes to sharing because I believe unity needs to come before all else.

    It is nice to hear that some nontheist groups are wanting to be a part of the whole of AA. This was a good reminder for me that I need not distance myself. Tradition one for me is about collective consciousness of the groups and it’s nice to hear of it in action with such hot topic.

    If ever I am in Toronto I will make a point of taking in a meeting at your group.

    Rick H

  23. Skip D says:

    Thanks for sharing this incredible journey. And thanks for the link to your presentation. The 12 no-voters must be a scary bunch.

  24. Pat Y says:

    Thank You for this well-timed message of hope, Dave! The ‘We Agnostics’ group in Colorado’s Roaring Fork Valley will be having its inaugural meeting TOMORROW NIGHT (7pm @ The Circle Club, Carbondale) and I am bristling with anticipation! Being the first meeting of its kind in this rural area, the two questions I’m grappling with are: ‘Will anyone show up?’ and ‘What (if any) resistance are we going to face?’ My mind is already gearing up for a fight, although I truly hope a fight will not be necessary. Thankfully we do not have an Intergroup organization and all of our meeting lists our printed by our District. If my interpretation is correct, so long as this group is recognized by GSO, the District will have no choice but to list us just like any other group. That said, I do have my doubts, as my District recently (and overwhelmingly) voted to reinstate the Lord’s Prayer as the official closing prayer of the meeting (the vote was 26-3, with myself and two friends representing a vocal opposition), just one month after a slim majority (14-13) voted to remove it. Such is life in a rural district. Though this is probably the inappropriate venue for saying so, a sincere ‘Thank You!’ to all of the contributors to aaagnostica for reminding me that, even when living in the middle of nowhere, I am hardly alone!

    • Jeb B. says:

      We would love to list your meeting on our website freethinkersinaa.org if you will send information to me at freethinkersinaa@gmail.com.
      Thanks and good luck!
      Freethinkers in AA

    • Nick T. says:

      Wow. I would be maddened by a meeting being closed with the Lord’s Prayer – how in Hades is that compatible with a “God of our own understanding”? What an awful idea. Mercifully, here in the UK, as far as I know, the only prayer ever used is the Serenity Prayer but always prefixed with a sort of health warning along the lines of “… using the word God as you do or do not understand it”. Though we’ve plenty of religious people, I think we Brits are, in general, more agnostic than the US average.

  25. Christopher G says:

    Beautiful essay, Dave!
    Well, Roger, do you think anyone out there has the talent and the knack to start a compilation of waaft recordings for download. I’d certainly like to get ahold of the Nancy talk. I know we now have a few at Encore from the November convention and Joe C has a couple out there. Any more that you know of?
    I’d love to get a copy of Nancy’s, Dave. You can get my email from Roger.

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