The Beginning

AA Evidence 750

Chapter 7:
Do Tell! Stories by Atheists and Agnostics in AA

Brent P.

In returning to AA In 2010, broke and briefly homeless, I had already decided, before someone made the point by asking, “so what are you going to do differently this time?”, that I indeed had to change my attitude to AA.

After 27 years of toying with the program I knew that one more flagrant, arrogant FU from me to AA, spelled the end. It’s only in AA that so many stories begin with, “The End”, and, if fortunate, end with, “The Beginning”.

The End

An alcoholic addicted to opiates and crack cocaine, I had fulfilled two of the three prognostications promised to alcoholics if they continued to drink: institutions, jail and/or death. You can figure out the one I’ve eluded so far.

Nevertheless I knew what it meant to be a “shivering denizen” of King Alcohol’s dark realm. I had experienced those last 10 to 15 years of absolute horror. The ominous, apocalyptic sound of the Four Horsemen’s mounts, their hooves pounding relentlessly with grim determination, shot electric fear through every nerve in my body.

What I had come to believe was my last stab at AA began when I came out of an institution that treats alcoholics. A hospital that medically detoxed me then put me into a program that fundamentally told me a lot of what I already knew. My brain was damaged as was my liver. The degree to which either would repair themselves was entirely up to me and my constitution. But the real message was, stop assuming that you’re at the head of the class, shut up and take seriously what others can tell you about alcoholism and addiction, whether doctors or peers in AA.

After seven weeks of balanced meals, exercise, massage, acupuncture, art therapy, doctor’s lectures, group therapy and other things I can’t remember, I was polished, dressed up and pushed out the door. They’d done all they could, including suggesting I start attending AA meetings (again!). ASAP.

There were a few days of sleeping on a friend’s couch before I secured a small bachelor’s apartment.

Now, I wonder, have I painted my self portrait clearly enough that you can picture me in your mind? Low bottom drunk/drug addict with a high opinion of himself. Dirty, rough looking, someone you’d hurry past on the sidewalk?

If that’s what you imagine, you wouldn’t be too far off the mark.

However it only took three of those 27 years to arrive at that station. The previous twenty four years I was a successful advertising copywriter. I traveled to some of the world’s most exotic locations, with a hefty expense account, to make commercials. Commercials!

Though not rich I was at the upper end of the wage scale. I had a salary that allowed me to buy and sell – one at a time – a 3 story building that was renovated to the nth degree, two houses in a very desirable downtown neighborhoods and, finally, a condo that was one of 17 unique units in what had once been a carpet factory.

I moved there shortly after an embarrassing incident cost me my partnership in a start-up agency. Or almost did. Since our partnership agreement was still to be completed, the other two partners had no basis upon which to sever me from the partnership. Nevertheless they wanted me gone. Some sort of arrangement would have to be crafted. Basically it would involve them paying me to stop showing up there.

I was in a rehab when the negotiating began. I left it to my brother to act for me. He happened to be the CEO and one of three senior partners in a sizeable law firm. That he was also a chartered accountant meant I had formidable representation. My brother and the accountant who was representing my partners, settled on a low six figure payout.

I won again, or so it appeared. Back in charge of my own life I decided I could take six months off; rest, recuperate, then like Lazarus, rise to take the job market by storm. I had to pause to admire my fine work! I was already calculating what a spectacular financial year it was going to be. Double the amount I’d settled for and that’s what my salary would be. Easy Street would be my address once again.

There was a recession and advertising agencies couldn’t afford much more than one senior guy like me and he/she was usually the creative director. While I thought I was perfectly cut out to be a creative director, nobody else appeared to share that confidence. My reputation had changed from one of a young, clever, big picture copywriter, to serious drunk, who looked and smelled the part. If you got me on a run of good days, then you were lucky; a run of bad days and anything could happen. I once passed out in an important meeting, my face dropping, slowly at first then more rapidly, until it was flat on the boardroom table. That ground the meeting to a halt while I was removed.

When I won that payout from my former partners, I didn’t realize that was it for me in the advertising business.

Fast forward a few years, after I’d been robbed by masked, armed crack-heads, been ripped off for $13,000 in a set up dope deal and repeatedly seen the most nightmarish side of humanity, I knew it was time to get out of Dodge. So I sold my condo and moved to an apartment in one of the city’s nicer neighborhoods. With the cash from the condo I could buy drugs and booze by the bundle and not have to leave the apartment for days.

I lived that way for about a year and I knew my brain was not functioning properly, that the tiny strokes that occur in your brain every time you smoke crack, were catching up to me. That every time I smoked crack I could have a sudden, crippling stroke. The alcohol I needed to accompany every crack-isode was so that I didn’t go into a major panic attack and bite my tongue off, was burning through the lining of my stomach. I was mixing vodka with Pepto Bismol and still my stomach burned and stung like I’d swallowed a swarm of bees. Finally, what started out as an occasional thing to help me sleep, opiates were required every day in greater and greater amounts. So when my brother finally caught up with me and said, “you need help”, I wrapped my arms around his waist – I was sitting and he was standing – buried my head just below his chest and let go with great heaving sobs.

So what are you going to do differently this time?

I was just over seven or eight weeks sober and still in a complete fog. Work wasn’t an issue since I didn’t have any nor could I have done any. I went primarily to daytime meetings and usually just sat there. On one of those occasions I thought to myself, “This is what you do all the time. Once you start feeling better you become argumentative, challenging the crap that inevitably drives you nuts. Then when you feel like you’re back to normal, you tell yourself you can’t take anymore of the nonsense and you stop coming”.

That was something I could do differently. The next change was a deal I made with myself; I could say anything I wanted in AA as long as it wasn’t driven by anger, wasn’t meant to be provocative nor could it be hurtful. Sure, it sounded good but could I do it? Turned out, with a little practice, I could. In fact with the nonsense I found amusing ways to show it for what it was.

It took awhile but I joined that group and pitched in all I could. It wasn’t until six months that you could chair a meeting so that kept being held out to me as a carrot. What they didn’t know was that I had severe anxiety accompanied by panic; the very last thing I wanted to do was chair a meeting. Rather than let that drive me out, as it had in the past (without knowing it part of my drinking and using was me self medicating), I decided I needed some outside help.

I finally ended up with two doctors, remarkable men whose compassion was equaled only by their BS detectors. I was prescribed a mild tranquilizer to use only in the most extreme cases (I only ever had a few pills at any time) and I was taught how to relax. Relaxing is a skill that you have to practice before you can really use it. But I practiced and if I still couldn’t halt the anxiety in a critical (to me) circumstance, I had the medication as back up.

I had dealt with two of the things that could make me walk out of a meeting, but there was another that had been a deal breaker so many times in the past – God and all the Judeo Christian constructs that infused many of the meetings. Add to that a Big Book that hadn’t changed in 75 years – I think it still refers to wives as “the little woman” – a book that people read and re-read as if there were treasure buried deep in its pages.

It was then somebody suggested I checkout AA Agnostica. I was suspicious. But I returned several times and finally wrote a kind of harsh rebuttal to one of the articles that appear fresh and new every week. They thanked me for my opinion!

I was invited to contribute some articles to the site. And as happy as I felt I could be in my regular AA group, I was growing more and more connected to this movement that became noticed here by virtue of an Intergroup hearing and ruling that would determine if secular groups in Toronto could be listed. They couldn’t. But that didn’t seem to impede the progress of AA Agnostica. The website flourishes as many are drawn to it and, for the first time, an atmosphere of open mindedness – not the kind that means turning off your critical faculties so you can accept a fairy tale as the reason for your sobriety – but instead the kind that encourages new ideas while caring little or nothing for your religion. AA Agnostica, the website, is a barometer of the movement around the world while bringing hope to people who either had to keep their thoughts to themselves or often live with them bottled up. The optimism the site exudes is palpable and compelling, telling this alcoholic, AA is changing and one day, in the not to distant future, the secular meetings and their members will be leading the charge to an AA that enjoys a symbiotic relationship with Science & Medicine, Mental & Physical Health Facilities and much more.

So I thank AAAA and AA Agnostica for giving me the hope I’m not certain I ever had. And I thank AA for its groundbreaking work and the vital insight it brought to treating that most acute symptom every alcoholic struggles with, loneliness. AA is a real community that AAAA continues to learn from and show gratitude towards.

Despite the fact that I’m still broke and on a disability pension that barely covers my monthly costs, I’m happy. I have inside help and I have outside help. My current doctor is a member of AA herself and actively involved in the science of addiction.

And for the first time in my life I wake up almost every morning now and on the cinema screen in my head I see, in a fantastic font, the words I’ve so desperately wanted to see at the introduction to my story:

The Beginning

Do Tell! [Front Cover]This is a chapter from the book: Do Tell! Stories by Atheists and Agnostics in AA.

The paperback version of Do Tell! is available at AmazonIt is also available via Amazon in Canada and the United Kingdom.

It can be purchased online in all eBook formats, including Kindle, Kobo and Nook and as an iBook for Macs and iPads.

8 Responses

  1. Todd R. says:

    Hi Roger, thanks for the reply and I appreciate the support. I don’t have a huge amount of confidence that there are enough freethinkers in my area to get a meeting going but I went ahead and submitted my info anyway. It’s worth a shot, right?

  2. Roger says:

    Hi Todd. I understand exactly how you feel except that I have several agnostic meetings in Toronto that I can attend. I need and enjoy the people and the discussions at those meetings. You can also check out AA Beyond Belief. And if you haven’t done so yet, click on the image below and complete the form and we can see if there are other like-minded people in your area who want to start an AA meeting where people understand that an interventionist, anthropomorphic deity has absolutely nothing to do with their sobriety. Best wishes, Roger.

    Agnostic Groups

  3. Todd R. says:

    “This is what you do all the time. Once you start feeling better you become argumentative, challenging the crap that inevitably drives you nuts. Then when you feel like you’re back to normal, you tell yourself you can’t take anymore of the nonsense and you stop coming.”

    This is exactly how I’ve been feeling for the past few weeks.

    I’m coming up on a year in another month and as the relief of just being sober is subsiding my intense discomfort at being an atheist in a small-town AA community is kicking in once again.

    So often I hear people in meetings talk about how AA is the first place they felt like they finally fit in and I really wish I could say the same. Instead it feels like just one more place where I don’t quite belong.

    People in the program inevitably suggest I read the infuriating and condescending Chapter to the Agnostics in the Big Book. In the 12 years I’ve been in and out of AA I’ve read that Chapter more then any other in the book – desperately wanting to find something that would make me feel like less of a misfit – and all it does is make me want to throw the book across the room.

    On one hand people tell me that god can be a Group of Drunks, or Good Orderly Direction, yet on the other hand they remind me that the Big Book clearly states that “no human power” can relieve me of my alcoholism.

    I feel like I am constantly being reminded that without a higher power I am going to die an alcoholic death and if I haven’t found one by now than I am just being arrogant, egotistical, and close-minded. Without a god in my life I may not actually go out and drink, but the general consensus seems to be that I’ll still be doomed to live out my remaining years as a miserable dry-drunk.

    Like the author of this article there has been multiple times in the past when I’ve allowed myself to feel so alienated and angry that I eventually walked away from AA and tried once again unsuccessfully to get sober on my own.

    I don’t want to walk away again. I can’t do it on my own and like it or not AA is truly the only game in town.

    Thanks so much for all the effort that has gone into creating and maintaining this website. I would love to find a like-minded alcoholic I could talk to face-to-face but until then at least I can come here to feel less alone.

  4. Christopher G says:

    Marvelous share, Brent! Every time I re-read one of these stories it’s like it’s new again. Must be that Teflon brain of mine.

    I love the ‘beginning’ idea. I no longer accept yearly chips and only keep a 24 hour one in my pocket because for me that is what it is always about: the beginner’s mind. Of course, that doesn’t keep me from sitting on my laurels (funny metaphor: laurels are a form of a crown of sorts and if I’m sitting on them, well, you can figure out where my head is!!)

    I love reading your thoughtful and articulate contributions.

    Thanks again.

  5. Brent P. says:

    To Ms. Soda, that rascal Thomas, who, having come all the way from Oregon, crashed our meeting here last week with all the grace of a bull in a china shop, aided and abetted by Soda; and to Johnny, who I’ve yet to meet, I simply say thank you for reading but, most importantly, leaving a reply. While I have often found myself wanting to do a scathing sentence by sentence review of certain articles that used to appear here, I again have had my eyes opened (by guys like Thomas and Soda… sounds like a drink doesn’t it?) and now thank all who have the courage to speak. Though we are once removed when we post our thoughts, rather than express them in a meeting, we are doing that thing that activates the whole AA machinery, making ourselves vulnerable so others can know us, embrace us and engulf us with the love, experience, strength and hope that will eventually become our healing blanket, the thing that puts an end to loneliness, fear, confusion and the compulsion to drink. Everything I’ve learned about AA, and AA has its shortcomings and defects, I’ve learned in AA. I know I need it, and whether I’m irascible on the day you meet me or expansive and warm, neither will indicate to greater or lesser degrees my feelings for a program that not only gave me a beginning, it gave me an audience who watch my story play out as I watch theirs. How ’bout a round of applause for the audience?

  6. Alyssa (soda) says:

    Fortunate to get to know Brent f2f. His story is inspiring wisdom of the old-timer & new-comer heart knowledge combined. The beginning. If I can keep seeing my path this way, it will help me avoid picking up for today. Luv Ms. Soda :))

  7. Thomas B. says:

    Indeed, Brent, so grateful to read your story again, which ends with the beginning of your continued recovery in secular AA a day at a time.

    Early on with about six months sober, I heard a guy who was a demigod in my opinion – he was celebrating his 8th year clean and sober, had a gorgeous wife, was getting a PhD from New York University and had a new job with a promising future. He said two things that I’ve remembered throughout the 43 years of continuous recovery:

    1. Don’t let the gifts you’ve received as a result of being sober keep you away from the source of your recovery, the meetings of AA.

    2. He considered himself a newcomer, because every day he didn’t pick up a drink or a drug, he was coming to a new understanding and awareness about himself and his life in recovery.

    It reads like you, likewise, have achieved the same gift in our secular AA movement !~!~!

  8. Johnny says:

    Fantastic story. THANKS for your honesty…

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