My Name is Charlie Polacheck
By Nick H.
Hello my name is Nick and I’m an alcoholic. I’ve been sober since February 15, 1991.
I had the privilege of knowing Charlie Polacheck in the last 12 years of his life when he moved to Austin to be with his three sons who had serendipitously moved to Austin from Los Angeles over the years. Charlie was a communist. He was an unavowed Marxist. He was a great friend of Pete Seeger and Woodie Guthrie. He knew them in Greenich Village. He had a great story about Pete Seeger renting a horse and cart to move him from one apartment to another in Greenich Village in the 1930s and how Woodie Guthrie was drunk all the time.
Charlie ended up out in California and in February of 1970 he had a heart attack and that inspired him to quit drinking vodka and switch from vodka to sherry because the doctor told him that he needed to be drinking less. So he decided that how he would do that is he be drinking the same amount but just of sherry instead of vodka.
What he didn’t realize was that his wife was going to Al-Anon meetings and he got suspicious about what his wife was doing when she was sneaking out in the evenings. And he said, “Where are you going?” And she said, “I am going to an AA meeting”. And he said “Well, I am going with you”. Because he really didn’t believe she was going to an AA meeting. But anyway she tricked him into going to an AA meeting.
And he went and he was horrified. It was at a Roman Catholic Church and it was full of God stuff and he ran into someone on Venice Beach the next day and he said “I heard you went to an AA meeting last night” and he said “Yeah, and I am never going to another one as long as I live. It was horrible”. And he said, “Well, which meeting did you go to?” “I went to this meeting at a Catholic Church.” “Oh, well, you need to come to my meeting.” And Charlie said, “No, I am not going to go to any AA meeting anymore”. And he said “No, no, you need to come to my meeting. You will really enjoy it”.
So the guy broke him down and took him to the meeting and yes it was different, it was a little toned down and so Charlie Polacheck sobered up September 16, 1970 in Los Angeles. During this time his sons started moving to Austin so he was going to regular AA meetings and gritting his teeth through the parts that he didn’t like but he was at a very open and accepting meeting in Los Angeles. But when he was in Austin, Texas, around 1976-77, he found that there was a freethinking, we agnostics type meeting at Morseland Group in Austin, Texas. It was led by a member of the Physics Department at UT. There was also another tale, I don’t know if it was apocryphal but there was somebody from NASA who was also a member of that meeting. I had a friend whose father used to go to that meeting.
He went there and then what he decided is what I will do is I will take their format and see if I can get some people to start a meeting. So he gets their format and he starts talking to people and at one point he kind of forgot about it and then he went back to Austin and the meeting had folded. He decided that was his key to start a meeting. So he started the first “We Agnostics” meeting that is still going on in Hollywood, California, in 1980. That meeting in Hollywood was the inspiration for many other AA We Agnostics meetings.
Now he wasn’t a big fan of the Big Book and he wasn’t a big fan of Chapter Four. But he decided that he need to call the meeting “We Agnostics” so that there was some tie to Alcoholics Anonymous in general. In the group that Charlie helped start with me called “Children of Chaos” we had a Big Book study and it was just miserable reading Chapter Four because Charlie would read a few paragraphs and share how he just hated Chapter Four. How it was pedantic, paternalistic, condescending, badly written. I would just give up and say, “Okay, let’s just go to the next chapter”.
So Charlie helped start these meetings in Los Angeles and they spread throughout the Los Angeles area and then in the year 2000 Charlie came to Austin, Texas, to retire. Charlie went to every single AA meeting that he could and that’s where I met him at a dying readers group. He would always hand out a piece of paper with his telephone number on it and say “If you ever need any help with AA just call me”.
He had stacks of these pieces of paper that he would hand out to people. I was with him for the first six weeks of starting the first We Agnostics group in Austin, Texas, which he started in August or September of 2001. And then in May of 2002 he helped me to start the Children of Chaos meeting here in Austin.
He was a big, important part of starting these meetings and he said that there were three things that you could boil the Steps down to: unconditional love, consistent responsibility and rigorous honesty. Those were the three aspects that Charlie Polacheck said you could boil the Steps down to, and those were the Steps he took every day.
He never called himself Charlie P in meetings, he called himself Charlie Polacheck otherwise people wouldn’t know who he was and he was never afraid to go to a mainstream AA meeting and say “Hello, my name is Charlie Polacheck and I am an alcoholic and I am an atheist”. He was an iconoclast for Austin AA for his last 12 years and he made himself known throughout the AA community.
Those are my remembrances of Charlie. I got to be there for his last chip in 2012 and I was sad to see him go. He was only 98 years old when he died. That’s my remembrances of Charlie.
This was the second talk of three main talks at a workshop on the history of secular AA at the We Agnostics, Atheists and Freethinkers International AA Convention in Austin, Texas, in November 2016.
You can read more about Charlie here on AA Agnostica: Father of We Agnostics Dies.
According to Alcoholics Anonymous, it is up to the family to decide whether the anonymity of an alcoholic shall be maintained after she or he is deceased. Given Charlie’s approach to this very issue, it was not a difficult decision.