We heartily encourage secular groups to let others know about their meetings, as Michel has done, by writing about them and having the stories published in their local AA newsletters. This article was first published in the Ottawa Area Intergroup of Alcoholics Anonymous Newsletter, Our Primary Purpose, in February 2017.
By Michel D.
This article is both a history and an invitation. It is the history of the Sobriety Group, a secular AA meeting in Ottawa. It is also an invitation to join us to celebrate our 1 year anniversary. Read on!
It is with some trepidation that I helped start the group (with someone who had a change of heart and who stopped coming after a few weeks) on March 1st, 2016 after being a member of Uptown for 15 years. The Uptown group had been my first and only group since arriving from Toronto where I got sober and where I was a member of the High Park group for most of my first 15 years in the program. It is indeed with some reluctance that I left the group because I made some great friends there and was proud of the service that it does – Uptown has always had a GSR and an Intergroup representative. In fact, 3 of the last 5 DCMs for District 58 have been members of Uptown, and the group always participates at the Alkathon and service meetings in Ottawa (putting meetings on at the Ottawa Withdrawal Management Centre, NewGate 180, McNabb and Mamisavik (the Inuit recovery house).
But my desire to attend a discussion meeting as opposed to an open meeting won out. After trying to find a locale, I settled on the Sandy Hill Community Centre on Somerset Avenue in Sandy Hill. The group is somewhat distinct in many ways. First of all, the meeting takes place Tuesday at 7:00 PM. In addition, we do not recite the Serenity Prayer and we do not read the Twelve Steps or the Twelve Traditions. It is not that we are opposed to them, but since each group is autonomous within AA, we felt that people could recite the prayer and do those readings at other meetings.
Instead, we read the AA preamble, followed by the 12 promises before reading a chapter of the AA book Living Sober. We then spend the rest of the meeting discussing what we have just read. That book was chosen because it contains a wealth of practical tips on how to stay sober. It is a great way for newcomers to be introduced to AA and an equally great means for people with a bit more sobriety to be mindful of their alcoholism. We also differ from the majority of meetings in the Ottawa region in that we do not close the meeting with the Lord’s Prayer. Rather, we close with the Responsibility Declaration.
Now, I hear that the group has been described as “agnostic”, “atheist” or even “God-less”, usually by people who have never attended our meeting. Although it is true that we do not recite the Serenity or the Lord’s prayers (neither of which are AA approved by the way), it would be far-fetched to describe us as anything other than a good old AA meeting. In fact, the group does not have a position on religion since religion is an outside issue. We do not read any statement to the effect that this is a non-religious group and I would guess that most people who have attended our meeting in the past year probably did not even notice that we are religion-neutral. The best way to describe our group, if one must put a label on it, would be to say that we are a secular group, that is to say neither religious nor non-religious in the best spirit of AA’s traditions. Many who come to our meeting are religious people while some are agnostics, atheists and the rest have yet to make up their minds. The Sobriety group is simply made up of AA members who like to attend AA meetings without having to deal with religious connotations. And I am sorry to say that meetings where the Lord’s Prayer is recited are, albeit unintentionally, endorsing Christianity since it is a Christian prayer. The main motivation for the creation of the Sobriety Group was to be the most welcoming possible to ALL who have a desire to stop drinking, regardless of their religion and/or beliefs. I myself have been going to meetings for over 31 years where the Serenity Prayer and the Lord’s Prayer have been adopted and I have no issues with either. But I helped create the group because I felt that a newcomer would be more at ease talking about recovery and not having to join hands to recite a prayer that many have little knowledge of or appetite for.
After all, it is not about you and I, but about those who have yet to enter the doors of AA. I can tell you from long experience that for many younger people who have never set foot in a church, not to mention practicing Jews, Muslims, Buddhists or any followers of non-Christian denominations, that the Lord’s Prayer can be a major irritant. I firmly believe that for AA to continue to thrive, something that I very much care about because I want our program to be around for a very long time, we need to keep religion and sobriety separate. I am grateful for my sobriety, I love AA and it is in this spirit that the Sobriety Group of Alcoholics Anonymous was founded.
Now that you know a little more about our group, please feel free to come help us celebrate the first year anniversary of our group on February 28 at 7 pm at the Sandy Hill Community Centre. There will be great food, good company and sobriety to be had that night.
Thanks to everyone who has attended our meeting in the last year and especially Dave B., Doris M. and Alicia D. who have been great supporters of our discussion meeting from Day 1.
Michel D. is 57 years old and has been sober since January 16, 1986. Michel has a lot of gratitude for AA because his life took a turn for the better, one day at a time, as soon as he attended his first meeting in 1986. From being a high school drop out, unemployed truck driver who had lost his driver’s license (drinking and driving), with no food in the house and rent unpaid, and with very few prospects when he arrived in AA, Michel now has a PhD, a job that he loves, the respect of his peers and colleagues and has two “sobriety” children (now two young men) who are the pride of his life. All thanks to AA. The program gave hope to Michel at a time when he had given up on life. Michel wants to give back to AA what was freely given to him and the creation of the Sobriety Group is but a small contribution in this regard.