If you need one, start one
By Clay A.
Hello my name is Clay and I’m an alcoholic and a proud agnostic member of AA.
Starting an agnostic meeting was always something that I loved to think about, but like the old elusive thought of putting down the drugs and alcohol, I never really thought it was something that I could do. Thankfully, I was wrong. With the help of AA Agnostica, some close friends and I were able to start an agnostic meeting in our hometown of Fairhope, Alabama. Starting this meeting has been one of the high points of my recovery. After a little bit of action on our part, we now have a meeting where we can share freely our beliefs or disbeliefs without feeling judged or being pressured into prayer, and for that I am truly grateful. I would like to tell you a little bit about why and how we did it.
My wife started attending AA meetings about nine years ago. She was a blackout drinker, so she was the one that had the problem. I was just a hopeless alcoholic/drug addict living in what I now know to be self-centered fear, but that’s not so bad, right? Something changed in her and she stayed sober. I decided I should investigate these meetings to see if this was something that could benefit me.
I attended my first AA meeting and I noticed that these people were happy and sober – two things that I could not relate to. How were these people doing this? I looked on the wall and read the Twelve Steps. I read them all, but the only word I processed was the word God. I get it now – these people are delusional! These happy, joyous and free people are not in my tribe. If I was going to have to find God and be one of those religious bores then count me out. My intellect was far superior to the intellect of these unfortunate people. With this attitude, I would go on using recklessly for another three years.
Those three years were some of the worst years of my life. But why? I had a beautiful and sober wife, whose sobriety did not compliment my using and drinking very well. I had three healthy kids and a good job. I made good money and seemed to have a great life. The problem was that I could find no joy in life unless I was loaded. I finally had enough. I was going to have to give the Twelve Steps a shot.
I got a sponsor from home while I was away at my second stint at rehab. He was a Big Book guy, and he knew how to sponsor. We worked the steps as suggested in the book. After a year of multiple relapses, of which I must’ve picked up twenty beginner chips, I kept coming back and finally found a stride. A fellowship grew up around me, and for once in my adult life I had true friends that would help me in any way. I began to know a life that I never thought possible; a life in which I was sober because I wanted to be. AA gave me a life worth living.
I was happy; however, it seemed that most, if not all, of my new friends in recovery came to know a higher power with such ease. I prayed. I talked the talk. I did what was suggested. I tried the “fake it until you make it” technique. After two years of doing this and staying sober, the pink cloud lifted a bit and I just felt like something was missing. I had not developed that conscious contact with God that everyone else seemed to have. I didn’t feel that something “out there” was keeping me sober. I felt like the action and service that I was putting in, along with all of the amazing new relationships I had formed, was the real reason I was staying sober. I began to resent all of the God talk in the rooms.
It was at this time when I first came across the AA Agnostica website. I started reading the stories and articles on the site, and I was amazed. This is my tribe! These are my people! It was extremely refreshing to read stories of atheist and agnostic alcoholics that were living happy and usefully whole lives without feeling the “nearness of our Creator”. I saw there were agnostic meetings all over the world, and I thought how lucky are they to live somewhere that offers agnostic AA meetings. Living in lower Alabama, I felt I could never be so fortunate to have a meeting like that where I live. Though I had found freedom in the website, my resentment toward the God talk grew and I relapsed.
I stayed out for about seven months. Drugs and alcohol still were not the answer, but neither was the God that I felt that AA all but insisted I find. In my resentment I had stopped carrying the message – the resentment was all that I could carry.
I realized I had to get back in action. I stayed sober with the idea of action in helping the newcomer. I started sponsoring again. I was starting to share a little more honestly about the God issue. In sharing more openly about how I felt about God, I met others who were like me. Will P. was one of those people. We would talk a good bit after meetings about the God part of the program and how great it would be to not have to be propositioned to say the Lord’s Prayer after every meeting. I told Will about the AA Agnostica web site and how much I loved it. I told him that there are meetings out there for agnostics and atheists in recovery and how fortunate alcoholics are that actually have those meetings available to them. Almost joking one night, I told Will that we should start an agnostic meeting in our area, never really thinking that this was something that we could do in our area.
Will took it from there. He checked out the How to Start an AA Meeting link on the AA Agnostica website. It was here that he discovered that Unitarian fellowships would sometimes be receptive to the idea of an agnostic AA meeting. Will then contacted the Unitarian Fellowship of Fairhope, and to our surprise they offered to rent us a space to conduct a meeting!
We set the start date and began to announce it around our local AA community. The announcement met some resistance, but not near what we were expecting.
Will made a website for the meeting and contacted AA Agnostica about adding the link to the website. That was such a surreal feeling for me to see that link on the very website that gave me the strength to open up in the rooms of Alcoholics Anonymous.
I used to look at all of those links just wishing that a meeting would pop up there closer to my area. Now there was, and it wasn’t just close, it was two miles away from my house!
We looked through several agnostic meeting formats online and cherry picked what worked for us. We decided to start our meeting with a moment of silent meditation followed by the Agnostic AA Preamble that we found in the Beyond Belief meeting format. We then read the Twelve Steps from Big Book with the caveat that although we read them as originally written, we invite the individual to interpret them in a way that they find meaningful. We did it this way because we felt that changing them may hinder us from being listed locally with our AA district. We are here for the newcomer after all; the more suffering alcoholics that can find us, the better we can be of service.
We then read Appendix II – Spiritual Experience in the Big Book. In deciding what the third reading would be, my wife suggested a paragraph on page 317 of the Big Book. This is a passage in the story My Chance to Live in which the spirit of willingness and action are key. It fits perfectly in the tone of what we are trying to achieve with this meeting. We then pass out chips, make any recovery related announcements, and present the topic for our discussion. We will typically use the Big Book, but we will not limit ourselves to only conference-approved literature. We close the meeting with the responsibility pledge.
We had our first meeting on January 26, 2017. What an amazing night!
Will and I were quite anxious about how this was going to go, but in the end the night was a total success. Here on the Eastern Shore of Mobile Bay we have an amazing community of recovering alcoholics.
We had twenty three people show up for the first meeting including our DCM, his alternate, and other GSRs from local groups. They are going to add our meeting to the Fairhope district list and our area AA website!
There were some that came to the meeting very skeptical but left telling us how much they enjoyed the meeting and that they would be back. When putting the chips together for the meeting, I was able to find nine of my beginner chips in a drawer in my room. We were surprised and happy to give away one of those beginner chips at the very first meeting.
I heard people that I’ve known for years share more honestly about their relationship with their higher power, or lack thereof, than I ever had. Not everyone at the meeting identified as agnostic or atheist, but that didn’t matter – everyone enjoyed the meeting. We are going to have a group conscience after our fourth meeting to decide if we want to be a group and elect a GSR to represent Fairhope We Agnostics at the local level. Our goal with becoming a group is that we can have our voice heard at local and area levels.
Starting this meeting has been an amazing experience for us. Something that we thought was going to be impossible turned out to be anything but that. Any fear and anxiety that we had in relation to this endeavor vanished after the first meeting.
I truly believe that these meetings are extremely important for the future of AA. Agnostic AA meetings must be there to serve the growing number of people that do not identify with any form of religion or omnipotent creator God. We are here to carry the message to the newcomer. We Agnostics of Alcoholics Anonymous can relate to the fellow freethinker better than anyone else can.
If any of you out there are thinking about starting an agnostic meeting, go for it! There’s no time like now.
Clay A. is 37 years old and attended his first AA meeting nine years ago. At one point he put together three years of sobriety and now his new sobriety date is December 16, 2015. Clay is happily married and his wife has six years of sobriety. Over his years in AA, he has tried his very best to work the steps as they are, prayer included. There was always something missing, and that was a Higher Power who many choose to call God. Clay has a new sense of freedom in recovery as a result of working on and participating in the new agnostic AA meeting. He is able to realize that his truth is just that, his truth. He doesn’t have to pretend to be someone else now at AA meetings. As soon as Fairhope We Agnostics becomes a group (via the GSO) it will become his home group.