A New “How It Works”

How It Works

By John S.

Writing the book Alcoholics Anonymous, what we today call the Big Book, was a moment of genius and creativity. I can just imagine the excitement in the room when Bill read the steps to the group for the first time, and what an interesting debate it must have been as they hashed over the precise wording. There were those on one side who wanted the program to be religious, specifically Christian, and there were others who wanted it to be completely secular, no god at all, and those who were between the two camps who helped bring about a compromise.

Imagine the passion those early members felt for the fellowship as they watched it grow, as they made new friends while getting sober together!

New groups were forming all over the country and AA was a real movement that was really going somewhere. The fellowship was looking forward, to the future. It was free of any burden from the past, no founding fathers to revere, no sacred texts, everything was fresh. The Twelve Traditions formed from AA’s early experience were formally adopted in 1950 when AA was only fifteen years old. The AA members of that time were experiencing a program that was designed by their generation and for their generation.

Sadly, this doesn’t describe AA in the 21st Century.

No longer is AA looking forward to the future, instead it clings to the past. The AA of today is no longer dreaming, no longer tapping into the collective imagination and talents of its membership. AA isn’t building anything new for future generations. In twenty-four years, the Big Book will be 100 years old! Those of us who are members of the fellowship today should be horrified at the thought that this book will be used as the central text in the year 2039.

That’s not the future any of us should wish for AA.

It’s time to get some movement back into this movement.

What could “How It Works” look like at an AA meeting in the 22nd century?

This is my effort to answer that question.

We are Alcoholics Anonymous, members of a world-wide fellowship of men and women united by a common purpose to stay sober and help others to recover from alcoholism. For us alcohol was cunning, baffling and powerful. It took us to that great jumping off place where we met terror, bewilderment, frustration and despair. Without help it was too much for us!

But we found help in Alcoholics Anonymous and the collective experience of those who preceded us in recovery. Here, we learned that honesty, open mindedness and willingness were indispensable if we were to reclaim our lives. Although our personal stories and experiences vary, this is a general description of the path we took.

We admitted we were powerless over alcohol – that our lives had become unmanageable. This humbling admission was a relief, the fight was over. We came to believe we could be helped through the fellowship of Alcoholics Anonymous, and we made a decision to turn away from obstinate denial, to let go of our old ways, and to follow suggestions.

How It Works

How It Works, pages 58 to 60, Alcoholics Anonymous. Published in 1939. Main author: AA co-founder, Bill Wilson.

We took stock of ourselves to uncover the truth about who we were and the events that shaped our lives, and we shared our stories in their entirety with another person, leaving nothing out. Through this process we learned the value of character building and we persistently worked to let go of those personal traits that blocked us from our usefulness to others. Understanding the damage left in the wake of our drinking, we made amends to those we had harmed, except when to do so would injure them or others.

Having followed these suggestions, our old ideas and attitudes were replaced with a new outlook on life. We became less interested in ourselves and more interested in the welfare of others. Our past became our greatest asset, the primary tool to help other alcoholics. At last, we felt that we were set on a new course.

We maintained this new attitude by continuing the practice of personal inventory and when we were wrong, promptly admitting it. We sought to improve our conscious awareness of these principles, and the serenity, courage and wisdom to carry them out. Everything we had done and all that we experienced to this point produced within us a deep and meaningful transformation, and having had this experience, we tried to carry this message to other alcoholics and to practice these principles in all our affairs.

This may seem a daunting task, but we assure you that none of us follow these principles perfectly, they are suggestions only, and there is no requirement they be followed at all. Together, we have recovered and with us so can you.

We members of Alcoholics Anonymous of the 21st Century need to build on the foundation that was laid by the AA of yesterday. The time has come to build something new, something better that will reach more people, save more lives and make a real difference. In order to do this, we need to stop clinging to the past. Honor it yes, even revere it, but we mustn’t let it burden us. If we don’t take responsibility for this fellowship and help to prepare it for the 22nd Century, then we are doing a grave disservice to the founders. Alcoholics Anonymous simply cannot survive long into the future if it refuses to dream, to change, to adapt and adopt, to think big.

We have the technology to gather the experience of millions of alcoholics the world-over and to transmit that experience in the language of our generation. We can and should rethink everything. For example, can’t we have more than one version of the steps? Can’t we take the principles of the steps and translate them into language for people of all faiths or people with no faith at all? If an AA group somewhere decides to write its own version of the steps while staying true to the basic tenants, isn’t that something we should celebrate and encourage?

There’s a lot of excitement among the agnostics, atheists and freethinkers in AA. We are writing new literature, blogs, creating websites, holding conventions, creating new groups, workshops for new groups, rethinking the steps, even debating these things. It’s an exciting time, a time of change. This is where the change begins, but the rest of the fellowship needs to join in. We need to build it together or we will ultimately drift apart.

Change is coming, it’s inevitable, but we have a duty and obligation to those who preceded us to act as capable stewards of the fellowship so that future generations can build on our work.

John S. is from Kansas City, Missouri and is a sober member of Alcoholics Anonymous. His home group, We Agnostics Kansas City, started in August 2014 with two members meeting every Thursday, and now has over fifty members meeting every Sunday, Tuesday and Thursday. Agnostic AA is thriving in Kansas City. To learn more, visit the group’s site at We Agnostics AA.

50 Responses

  1. Doug L says:

    John, wonderful article. “How It Works” is read at the beginning of most meetings in the Philadelphia area, and I always have to have my internal filter turned on fully for the “may you find him now,” “no human power” and “could and would if he were sought” stuff. I don’t mind at all if some people choose to call their higher power “God,” but I wish they would extend me the same courtesy if I don’t. Sometimes they do, and sometimes they don’t….

    This website means so much to me. I always know that I can come here for some good recovery talk, and my personal beliefs will be respected. There is an agnostic meeting in my area that I often attend, but it’s only on Saturdays and a good drive away, which is why I also attend “regular” meetings as well – as I did tonight. It’s a good meeting with a lot of good recovery, but the god-talk was heavy, and when one woman said, “You need a higher power to get sober. And I mean God, not that chair!” I kind of hit overload.

    And that’s why I’m here right now, posting. I was in the program back in the 90’s, but I drifted away, largely because I couldn’t handle all the god-talk. That was my fault, but back then I didn’t know about resources like this wonderful site. You have helped me so much, and I thank you all.

  2. JoAnna M. says:

    John, Thank you so much for your article. I will pass it on. I started a woman’s circle almost 30 years ago for women in recovery who honored women’s spiritual traditions because we just couldn’t stand sitting in meetings focusing on Patriarchal religion any longer. Almost 5 years ago, we also started a 12 Step Recovery Group here in Carson City for free thinkers and like minded people which respects secular views. In the spirit of unity, we do NOT use the word “god” or religious terms in our readings at all and encourage everyone to express their own idea of a “power greater than themselves” in whatever way they see fit. We hold meetings 6 days a week from Monday – Saturday and it’s really a breath of fresh air. Thank you for AA Agnostica. JoAnna M. from Carson City, Nevada.

  3. Sherry J. says:

    Once again, John, thank you.

  4. Tim C. says:

    The research oriented way to create a new “How It Works” for agnostic AA would be to ask hundreds of recovering agnostics with over 4 years sobriety to write, completely on their own, a list of one to 20 things they think were essential to their own recovery as well as to that of many others they have seen succeed in recovery. Workers could then compile that into a report called something like “How It Worked for 300 Agnostics”. The problem with paraphrases of old texts is they assume the old text was on the right track. Maybe this is not so in AA at all.

  5. Denis K. says:

    Thank you for your piece John, your ideas are innovative, refreshing and insightful.

    At our group last night we discussed the idea that our meeting format was getting stale, that we needed to try something new. We discussed your version of “How It Works” and unanimously agreed to adopt it and read it at the beginning/opening of our weekly meeting. Thank you for sharing this with us.

  6. Tim C says:

    There are in fact a good number of liberal sound bites or thought bites in AA literature and group shares. Unfortunately, those phrases are drowned out or ignored by an ocean of other fanatically religious thought on which floats lots of brownish nuggets.

  7. Joe J says:

    Living in an area that is seething in aa tradition, Ohio, I am refreshed by this site, its articles and everyone’s comments. After going to two-three evangelical meetings a week I can take a deep breath and know there are others out there. I won’t hold on to anything changing soon in the literature. But, I will have these articles and all of you to enjoy.

    Great article, great comments, thanks to all.

  8. wisewebwoman says:

    Wonderful essay, thank you so much.

    I only have to look at the To Wives chapter in the BB to bang my head off the nearest hard surface and despair at this quaint old text in the year 2015 and know in my heart that if THAT can’t be removed what hope for non-god literature to be on the tables of meetings?

    • Bob C says:

      What??? What ever do you mean? To Wives is totally cool:

      “Never be angry” (to your violently drunk husband)

      Don’t be a “nag or a killjoy”

      “He may seek someone else to console him- not always another man” (if you bug him about his drinking.

      Don’t be a “wet blanket”

      “You must not expect too much.” (As he gets sober.)

      That chapter has tons of little nuggets!

      • wisewebwoman says:

        Bob – I did absolutely NONE of those things to my ex-husband, I was too busy trying to maintain my balance on a barstool or having a “nap” on a comfy spot on the floor/couch/car/bathroom. *grin*

  9. David R. says:

    I understand “How It Works” to be a statement of the fundamental principles of AA and our complaint is that it excludes those who don’t share its religious beliefs. It is not philosophically, intellectually or morally inclusive. However, much of the WAAFT writing, including the new “How It Works”, excludes those who don’t share its religious, or a-religious, beliefs. Therefore, there is the tendency here to be as narrow minded as is the literature we complain of. The new literature should expressly welcome all beliefs which underlie the experiences of those who have come before us and who are with us now.

  10. Fred S says:

    That’s a very disturbing image above the headline. People walking on cogs which presumably are turning and meshing with other cogs. They’d better walk at exactly the same speed as the turning cog, huh? And the cogs’ teeth don’t even match up. What the point here… illustrating a dysfunctional organization which grinds up its members? Subtle, indeed.

  11. Laurie A says:

    Bill W. told us, “Each AA member has the privilege of interpreting the program according to their own outlook and experience,” as you have done John. But trying to change the Steps in chapter five of the Big Book is jousting at windmills. Any change in the Steps or Traditions would require the WRITTEN consent of three-quarters of all the groups in the world! So it ain’t gonna happen. I covered similar ground in my posting Hallowed is the Big Book?

  12. Fred S says:

    Kudos for abandoning that soul-shriveling first paragraph of chapter five. It starts by holding out hope to the hopeless: “rarely have we seen a person fail…”, and then, like a high-diver, it turns and plunges to the depths: “constitutionally incapable of being honest… born that way… chances less than average… grave emotional and mental disorders…”

    So often I have shaken my head in dismay as that paragraph is read to first-timers as “how it works”. Rather than offering them hope, it says in effect, “Here are all the reasons why you will fail.”

    • Dan L says:

      For me getting sober was like throwing away a straightjacket. I was NOT going to put on another one. I don’t like “How It Works” much, as I said below.

      I had to re-interpret that passage and always do so for those I try to help. These reasons, “…incapable of being honest… born that way… grave emotional and mental disorders…” were the very reasons why every previous attempt at sobriety had failed. Addiction is a mental disorder that I was probably born with and because of my failure to face my problem honestly I failed. So I believe being honest about my predicament led me to recovery. I can live with my mental disorder now. My grave emotional issues are greatly helped by the others in AA.

      • Fred S says:

        Thanks, Dan. I don’t argue the technical accuracy of the words; they’re simply a classic case of “not what they need to hear at this time.” By the time an alcoholic resorts to AA she likely has tried other avenues and is feeling hopeless from repeated failures. Hitting her with a listing of personal defects which predict failure in this attempt as well, as the opening paragraph explaining what she has to do in this program, is the height of cluelessness.

  13. John S says:

    From my own experience, I had to get honest about my drinking and admit it was a problem, I had to open my mind to the idea that I could be helped and I had to be willing to seek the help that I needed.

    The message to not drink and do what I want would have killed me. I needed loving and compassionate people at that time in my life and it helped that they shared my experience. They gave me hope.

    Now, I dislike dogma as much as you do, which is why I believe it’s important to respect everyone’s experience. If someone believes that God keeps them sober, great but don’t insist that everyone believe the same thing, if someone such as me believes in the steps worked secularly that’s good too, and if you feel that all we need to do us not drink that’s fine too. But we should respect and honor each other’s experience in recovery.

  14. brien says:

    A part of me sees AA never changing and maybe that is their right.

    What if all this great wisdom and energy was put into a new recovery program like LifeRing instead of trying to change AA? I think non believing alcoholics would be better served.

    • Tim C. says:

      I’d be more prone to join an AA spin-off group like Reformed AA or Alcoholics Anonymous Reformed. Jewish communities seem to make such nomenclature work well for them.

  15. Tim C says:

    I think that if AA does a NEW “How It Works,” the new one should be completely new and not a pastiche as past verbage.

  16. Thomas B. says:

    Indeed, an excellent essay, John. Your clear thought and manner of expression, as others have mentioned, is a welcome addition to our deliberations here on AA Agnostica.

    As you are aware, there is massive resistance to revising a single letter of the original 164 pages of the Big Book. Increasingly, the Big Book is considered by ardent Christian believers in AA as sacred text, as inviolable as the Biggest Book of their belief, the Bible.

    This is ironic, because there are many passages in the first 164 pages that are directly opposite to Our book is meant to be suggestive only. We realize we know but a little.” — what’s so absolutely certain about this language?

    My sense is that this resistance shall continue for the next 15 to 20 years until the majority of us Baby Boomers, the 2nd generation of people with long-term recovery dies out. About the only significant change to the core orthodox ideology of AA was the addition of Appendix II, Spiritual Experience, in 1955, which attempted to broaden it to include psychological psychic change of the educational variety instead of Bill’s sudden “white-light” kind of experience. Much of the commentary of Bill and others up until 1975 is dismissed by ardent believers of the “Back to Basics” ilk as being heretical from that apostate, Bill W., who reneged on the one and only true AA way, the way allegedly as it was practiced by Dr. Bob and the folks in Akron.

    I totally agree with folks who still attend orthodox AA meetings, as I do at least 2 or 3 times a week, so as to share my experience, strength and hope and be an example that one can achieve quality long-time recovery, expressing my doubts about “How It Supposedly Works.” I do so primarily for the benefit of newcomers, especially those a couple of generations younger than my aging baby-boomer generation, who are more likely nonbelievers than even my “drugs, sex & rock n’ roll” generation reputedly at one time was. Ardent believers, chafe and sneer-mumble and roll their eyes, sometimes even trying to shame and shun me, but they can’t kick me out. I’m sober at least twice as long as most of them are, which counts a lot — it gives me a lot of “street cred,” so to type.

    At the same time, I have to share my non-believing ESH with dignity and respect for all means of being sober a day at a time. It is a daily challenge for me to live in accordance with our code of “love and tolerance,” striving to adhere to our first Tradition of Unity, which is not uniformity. Whenever I become as arrogant and contemptuous of ardent believers, like at times some are towards me and other nonbelievers, the less effective the sharing of my experience, strength and hope becomes.

    Finding a middle ground on the slippery slope of being true to our non-beliefs without arrogance or disrespect to ardent believers, I suggest, is a continual challenge for all of us . . .

    • John S says:

      I don’t object to those who believe in God and who rely on their faith in God to work the steps. I don’t even object to those experiences appearing in our literature.

      What I find objectionable is that our conference approved literature excludes the nonbeliever and ignores our experiences, and treats us as if we need to convert in order to experience recovery.

      It’s maddening to me that with all the experience we have in AA, that we don’t come up with something better or at least a little more fresh than the Big Book.

      This is Alcoholics Anonymous for goodness sakes! We have eighty years of experience staying sober and helping others, and we have learned a lot in those years. Let’s write what we have learned in modern language that includes the believer’s experience as well as the nonbeliever’s experience.

      There is no need to trash the old books. Keep them, treasure them, learn from them, but let’s add to the library.

      AA will change, everything changes, but what that change entails remains to be seen. My goal is to share my experience, strength and hope and to work within the AA General Service Structure to effect change for the better.

    • Steve K says:

      Thanks for your comments Thomas, finding the middle ground is very difficult for me as my ego wants to fight fundamentalism within the fellowship by attacking others, which is not helpful and creates bitterness and resentment. Your comments remind me to practice respect, tolerance and love towards all, even if i don’t agree with their point of view and beliefs.

  17. Andrew says:

    This is all great going in the USA but up here in the north of England we’re stuck in a time warp..hence my decision to leave AA which is very sad..

  18. Kerry T says:

    I wish it would, but the AA bible will not change. People will not stand for it. I don’t get why atheists continue to go to AA. I will not. I went for a while but I felt like the battered wife. Keep coming back and expect things to change. Is this insane?

    • John S says:

      Well, Kerry the good news is that we don’t need to change the Big Book. All we need to do is get new conference approved literature that includes us and our experience.

      • Steve K says:

        I like your article John, particularly your description of early AA being a “looking to the future” fellowship, as opposed to a clinging to the past that many do in AA today. I very much agree with the call for change and genuine inclusion for all who want to attend AA.
        I have submitted my recovery story to the UK gso for the proposed phamphlet for agnostic, atheist and freethinkers in AA, as I live in England.

  19. Chris G says:

    Very refreshing! I really like this version of How it Works. Here’s how it’s not working now:

    I went to a conventional meeting last Thursday at a local half-way house. Many of these guys are on their 3rd or 7th or 10th trip through the revolving door. No newcomers right now. What do you hear?

    Parroting the Big Book. Working on Step 4 for the 101st time this year. HP will fix me. Chanting “principles before personalities” like zombies. Almost no affect – most of these guys could (and do, I guess) participate in a meeting like that sound asleep. Just like a routine church service.

    So I try: I talk about service, the power of the fellowship, new literature and new stories they could be reading, some latest research about addiction, some of my own godless success story (hopefully without preaching atheism). Most of them don’t even listen, but the odd spark appears.

    These are the sparks we have to fan, whether about “the God thing” or just the dull, rote, predictable and totally unhelpful thing so many meetings (not all) have become.

    I invite them to a Wednesday meeting where they will hear some Dharma, do some meditation, and hear some stories they have never heard before. Some say they may try it. I hope they do…because this Wednesday they will hear John’s version of How it Works as my share!

    It’s a new meeting and we do all sorts of experimental stuff, and have a really tight if still small membership who all want to explore their sobriety, not navel gaze. I don’t know how one would do this in an old meeting of the staid variety.

    However you can do it, fan the sparks.

    • John S says:

      Thank you Chris. It’s quite an honor to have something I wrote published on AA Agnostica, but for it to be read at another meeting is even more of an honor.

  20. Tommy H says:

    Well said, John, as usual.

  21. Jan A. says:

    Well done. I would love this to replace the antediluvian Chapter 5. I’m in favor of re-writing the whole first 164 pp of the BB. But I am also in favor of a revised BB that would include both a current, more progressive and inclusive update, followed by the original text of 1939, from a historical and contextual view.

    I agree that AA must grow and continue to strive for inclusion, rather than exclusion. The future of AA cannot afford to splinter off into different organizations, dependent on individual definitions of a power greater than ourselves. AA should forever remain the umbrella organization with wisdom, flexibility and foresight enough to be open to all alcoholics.

  22. life-j says:

    John, thanks, especially your intro is so well written, so right on!
    The AA of today is no longer dreaming, no longer tapping into the collective imagination and talents of its membership. AA isn’t building anything new for future generations.
    Believers or not, it can’t be said better than that.

  23. Cecilia E. says:

    Love this post. I really hope AA can change to move into the 21st century with a new How It Works–to include all.Great rewrite.

    Tiny nitpick:in the paragraph beginning as below you’ve got’tenants’instead of’tenets.’

    ‘We have the technology to gather..’

  24. Dan L says:

    Thanks John S. for the wonderful essay. While retro might come and go as a fashion it has no place in recovery. So much has been learned since 1939 by both medical science and recovery psychology that this clinging to the past threatens to render AA irrelevant. (That “allergy” thing has been driving me nuts since day one. It is not, I feel, a character defect to insist on correct terminology.)
    “How It Works” simply does not tell how it works. At all. “Rarely have we seen a person fail…” blames the victim entirely if he fails. Thanks AA. I could go on. I have had to reinterpret “How It Works” for myself just as much as I had to work the steps in my own way. (Of course the deacons told me that was totally wrong.) I really don’t like when “How It Works” is read at meanings and I always change it in my mind to “How They Thought It Worked, 1939”. I was glad to read your version and thank you for writing it. I always thought “How It Works” was one of the true “The Emperor Has NO Clothes!!!” parts of AA.
    Dan L

  25. Bob C says:

    Thank you for that John. I really like your how it works. I think if anyone, the agnostic AA’s are leading the fellowship into new territory.

  26. Joe C. says:

    John, I loved the line, “It’s time to get some movement back into this movement.” Congrats on the success of the evolution of Kansas City AA.

    What image comes to mind when we think, “AA today”? Is it the General Service Conference or is it you and fellow members of your home group arriving 1/2 hour early in case a newcomer arrives to AA for their first time? Of course, both answers are correct; GSO is AA and so is the meeting I go to tonight. What I try to remind myself is if I care about AA, about 80% of my effort ought to be put into my home group and 20% on AA as a whole. Why? Because to that newcomer, AA isn’t GSO; AA is my home group or your home group or whatever two or three AA members she or he first meets.

    I share John’s commitment to stewardship. To cynics and critics I think the growth of secular AA within the fellowship is a perfect example to say, AA isn’t just what happened in 1939, recorded in a book; AA history is happening every day.

    Just as healthy as atheist/agnostic AA is, the growing back-2-basics movement is picking up steam, too. I say, “Good for them.” Everyone should have and get what they want without the criticism of disapproving others being taken too seriously. If you want authority and tradition and repetition for your recovery, you can find that in AA. If you want to create a new life for yourself, you’ll find fellow travelers in AA who can share their ESH (experience, strength and hope) with their own adventurous journey born of the same or similar goal.

    AA has always had that Three Musketeer slogan, “All for one and one for all.” The relationship between AA as a whole and individual members and our groups live by the same mantra. We can support AA as a whole without having to find everything about AA agreeable. And AA has been there for us, if not echoing our view of AA back to the whole as fast as we like, certainly applauding our efforts with WAAFT, the face-2-face groups we support and gatherings such as this online.

    Unity isn’t anti-independence and putting our collective principles first isn’t to silence AA’s personalities. Liberté, égalité, fraternité is the motto of France and Haiti and Liberty, Equality and Fraternity are what their Red, White and Blue represent on their flag. At our home group, this was the theme that our speaker lead the discussion with on Thursday. It was very AA.

    • Steve K says:

      WOW! “good luck to the back to basics” mob in the fellowship. I really struggle with this concept emotionally as my self-esteem wants to retaliate to what I perceive as judgement and disapproval of me from them. I suppose that’s my insecurity and my issue. Ideally, if we all play fair in the fellowship and practice love and tolerance of each other all would be well. Unfortunately we are all imperfect human begins and so acceptance of strong differences is difficult (for me anyway). However, I’ll try to take on your novel suggestion Joe and say my piece quietly and be accepting of others’ differences.

  27. Ed W. says:

    How It (Really) Works:

    1. Don’t drink;
    2. Go to meetings; &
    3. Help another drunk.


    Thanks, John! I agree that canon literature needs to grow and evolve. In the meantime, we have our meetings and these resources.

    Recently I decided to work the ‘official’ A.A. 12 Steps with a ‘traditional’ sponsor who understands and respects my atheist/agnostic belief system. It resembles more a philosophical/rabbinical study than it does any process of conversion.

    My beliefs remain intact because I have the Agnostic AA.

    Meetings to go to. We’re in a good place, but more needs to be done.

  28. Adam N says:

    Yeah, John. Love you. Love your work. This is right on stuff. The more I think about this, which I do constantly, the more I come to believe that the “Back to Basics” idea is precisely the opposite of what we need. We need an ‘into the future’ movement instead.

    Also, I am tuned into this conversation on so many levels, and it is an excellent, thriving, vital, wise conversation. But, unfortunately, it is a conversation taking place enthusiastically within a cave. Increasingly I am aware of how the rest of AA does not even know we exist, does not even know that we are out here talking about the importance of change.

    This may take some time. I find that AA members have a problem with atheism, agnosticism and free thinking. But just as much, perhaps even more so, they fear change. Just what the doctor orders is precisely what many of them are highly reticent to embrace.

    Anyways, love your contributions to the conversation always, John.

    Adam N

    • Ed W. says:

      I’ve said that Agnsotic A.A. is more “Back to Basics” than anything else in A.A., because it’s just us taking and listening to each other, like Bill & Bob started to do right at the beginning, before any literature, central offices, blogs, or conventions even existed. I use the term “Back to the Roots” to differentiate this from conventional “B2B”.

      • Adam N says:

        I get it. Point taken. But the point of looking forward is also a good one. Two different things about the future as opposed to how they did it back then:
        1) god, spirit and other supernatural entities are no longer requisite interpretations, as they were for Bill & Bob, and
        2) We know a lot more now than we did about alcoholism, addiction, recovery and human psychology in general.

        So, I’m still going with ‘into the future’, while I respect your view and your distinctions.

      • Scott A. says:

        I am not that much of a student for the ever-elusive AA “success rate” stats… but, “coincidentally” I am currently listening to prof. Jason Statterfield’s audio book Cognitive Behavioral Therapy: Techniques for Retraining Your Brain, and chapter 17 addresses chemical addiction.

        He calls 12-step recovery’s effectiveness “…a little bit disappointing. It’s about 5 to 10% effective, but that’s for people who stick with it. I think the primary problem with 12 step is that 90% of the people that go to an AA meeting drop out in the first 90 days. For the folks that stay, it works, but you have to get people to stay.”

        There are plenty of reasons to flee from AA… not the least being that it might get in the way of one’s drinking… having a clique of people laugh knowingly at one’s declared disbelief and being reassured not to worry… that “recovery from non-theism” to theism will bless us, too… if we will just stick around, can be jet fuel for the exit ramp.

        I, too, much appreciate the article and theme of our opportunity and duty (“responsibility”?) to honor our present and how it unfolds into the opened or closed doors of recovery in the future. I recently heard someone say, “I am atheist… not anti-theist.” I would like to say that too, but more importantly (and challenging) to live that (within AA).

        Hanging (online) with my fellow waaft AAers, had me recalling the shocking response of the 30 years sober volunteer at my central office, when I long ago walked in about 10 days sober, with about that many meetings under my belt, and about that many questions. We talked for a couple of hours… somewhere in there I told her I am atheist. She took out a meeting schedule, circled a meeting, and said “the secretary of this meeting is an atheist and he has been sober 10 years… you might want to talk with him.” Now THAT is the old-timey love and tolerance of AA that I hope we never lose.

    • Mark C.a.k.a. Mark In Texas says:

      Adam, you so excellently put,

      “Also, I am tuned into this conversation on so many levels, and it is an excellent, thriving, vital, wise conversation. But, unfortunately, it is a conversation taking place enthusiastically within a cave. Increasingly I am aware of how the rest of AA does not even know we exist, does not even know that we are out here talking about the importance of change.”

      The Cave is cozy. It is also hidden. It is a form of Ghetto, and a place to be avoided and can very easily be ignored. An out of sight, out of mind sort of place. <—that is, IF, we nontheists ABANDON our former "conventional AA home groups."

      But if we still attend a conventional AA home group, and we HIDE, then the result is the same as living in a new shiny ghetto.

      Of course those of us who do have the good fortune of attending an WAAFT style meeting (for lack of better terms)consider them to be an Oasis rather than a ghetto. And they truly ARE an oasis for those who have for years been subjected to all kinds of abuse simply because they are openly honest about who they are.

      Any real open, lasting, positive change in the Fellowship at large will be due to the fact that individuals continue to attend conventional AA home groups, do service there, love others there, and continue to reach out to the newbie nonbelievers who walk through the doors.

      A dual-citizenship, if you will, attacks and addresses both problems at once.

      Many of you have become very weary of the "war" and seek to retire from the field, where the true contest exists. It is tiresome, and often stupid, but a necessary engagement that will widen the gates, just a tad, in conventional home groups, thus AA as a whole.

      It is easy to lay down the arms and flee to the ghetto.

      May we all be well.

      • Adam N says:

        Mark, I love your point. I agree 150%, which shows how bad I am at math…

        I remain a member of the ‘regular’ AA I have always attended. There I am vocally ‘out’ about being an atheist and what that entails. I try and do so mostly so new people will know it is an option. At the same time, I do so to share the message for all, which to me is essentially that one does not have to believe in supernatural entities to live clean and sober and content, though one can if one wants to, of course.

        Problems I try to avoid: getting on the soapbox and ALWAYS talking about WAAFT stuff. For various reasons I try and intersperse this with ordinary, day to day, personal recovery shares. This helps me maintain my status within the groups as well. I also like to avoid getting preachy or holier-than-thou, ironic though that sounds.

        So, come out, come out, wherever you are, but don’t be a dick about it, that’s what I try to do…

      • Dan L says:

        Hi Mark. As usual I agree with you. It is hard to distinguish fighting from striving for progress. But history tells us what happens to people who get put in ghettos. I think we owe it to the rest to get out a bit and show that we will not bring their world down around their ears if they accept us. This will take time and effort but needn’t be a fight as such. What upsets me the most is when really well meaning people get things SO wrong. Just because we have to use some harsh discipline on ourselves it does not follow that we apply that to others. They will find what they must do from the people who work their program successfully. I remember, early on, being told by a locally famous guru-guy, “This program is not ‘your’ program to work as you wish. It is THE program to do as you are told.” I found out later he is bi-polar and 12 stepped himself right out of his medication and over to the right hand of god.
        Dan L

      • Tim C. says:

        I loved Mark from Texas’ comment about the agnostic cave. We need to work hard to be seen and heard.

    • John S says:

      Thanks Adam. I sure appreciate your support and encouragement. Our group has benefited immensely from your experience as written in your book “Common Sense Recovery”.

      You are right that people don’t like change and maybe in AA that is even more true. Yet, change is inevitable, it happens whether people like it or not. I think when people understand we aren’t a threat, we aren’t trying to take anything away from them, but are only asking to be included then they will be more amenable.

      I can understand though that someone reading my essay may not like what I’ve written and may construe it negatively, but really I don’t want to take anything away from anyone, I’m just asking that they include us too. That’s only fair.

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