Letting others know about us

Beautiful Tempe, AZ on the shore of Tempe Town Lake

The theme continues today. It’s all about letting those in conventional AA know about we agnostics in AA, and our groups and meetings. One way to do that is to write an article about your group and have it posted in the local Intergroup Newsletter. Beth’s article was published in July 2016 in the East Valley Intergroup of Alcoholics Anonymous in Arizona. The Newsletter is called No Booze News. Read on:

We Agnostics (Tempe) Group History

My name is Beth H. and I’m an alcoholic.

I’m one of the founding members of this secular AA group. Not the main one or the most important one, but I’m only speaking for myself as to why this meeting was started.

I was raised in a Christian church and had no problem with it, nor do I have any resentment toward it or bad memories of it. But one day in about 10th grade I stopped believing. I’m a very skeptical, analytical person by nature. I don’t go in for supernatural explanations. I believe in coincidences.

Anyhow, when I got sober in 1985, I tried very hard to become a believer again. I pursued it for many years because I was told I had to or I would get drunk. I attended three different churches over the years. I studied cultural anthropology, thinking that if deep down inside every person there is the idea of God, I would learn how to strip away the cultural trappings and uncover the essence. I ended up with a master’s degree but all the more confirmed in my belief that cultures invent higher powers to suit their purposes. Remember, this is my personal belief and I do not speak for all the group members. The point is, I was open-minded and did my due diligence to become a believer, but the bottom line is that I cannot just make myself believe something no matter how much I may want to.

After a while, I started feeling like a second-class citizen in AA. I beat myself up mercilessly over being close-minded as Bill called it, having too much intellectual pride as Bob called it. When I got to AA I had really low self-esteem and believed I was a defective human being, and this part of AA was feeding right into that instead of helping with it. It is pretty miserable to feel like you don’t fit in anywhere, and then you find AA, and then you realize you don’t fit in there either, especially if it’s the last house on the block.

But I did fit into AA in every other respect. I love AA. I love the fellowship. I love meetings except when the topic is Higher Power, and I definitely tune out when they read How It Works or say the Lord’s Prayer. I love that everyone admits they are flawed, and we meet on this common ground and love each other back to health. I have definitely had a psychic change. All the promises have come true for me. I would only change one word, that AA, not God, is doing for me what I could not do for myself. I attribute my good fortune to the magic of one alcoholic talking to another.

After I’d been sober more than 20 years, I finally gave myself permission to be who I am. Our chips say, “To thine own self be true.” Apparently it is possible to stay sober without a higher power, because I’ve been doing it. I decided not to beat myself up over it any more.

I discovered a website called aaagnostica.org. I found that there were others like me. It was wonderful to be able to speak freely and not be ashamed. I learned there was going to be the first ever international conference of We Agnostics and Freethinkers in AA in November of 2014 in Santa Monica. I attended the conference. I learned that there are hundreds of people who have stayed sober for decades without a higher power.

It is AA’s best kept secret. I ran into three other people I knew from the East Valley (but had no idea they were nonbelievers) and a few I didn’t know. When we got back we started the Tempe We Agnostics meeting.

We Agnostics has been going since January 2015. We meet on Fridays and Sundays at 1:30 at the Pigeon Coop, and Tuesdays at 6:40pm at the Valley Alano Club. After we read the AA preamble, we read our own preamble.

AA agnostic meetings endeavor to maintain a tradition of free expression, and conduct a meeting where alcoholics may feel free to express any doubts or disbeliefs they may have, and to share their own personal form of spiritual experience, their search for it, or their rejection of it. In keeping with AA tradition, we do not endorse or oppose any form of religion or atheism. Our only wish is to ensure suffering alcoholics that they can find sobriety in AA without having to accept anyone else’s beliefs, or having to deny their own.

We are very much a part of AA. We participate in EVI and GSO. I truly appreciate the East Valley Intergroup for not even balking at putting us on the meeting list, because some agnostic groups in other locations have not been so fortunate. We are not trying to change AA. We are making AA more inclusive. The only requirement is a desire to stop drinking. You will not hear God-bashing at our meetings except for the occasional newcomer who needs to vent. We just share what has worked for us. I don’t want other like-minded newcomers to have to go through what I did before they can find peace and joy in sobriety. I would have found it much sooner if just one other person had told me, “It’s OK if you don’t believe. You can still stay sober, and you belong.”

Recovering from the Committee in my Head

Beth has been sober in AA for 31 years, half of her life. She is retired from her careers as software engineer and public defender attorney.  She lives in Mesa, AZ, with her many animals and enjoys working out, sewing, birdwatching, doing pro bono legal work, spending time with her grandchildren, and hanging out with other alcoholics in recovery.

Beth is also the author of an article posted on this website on February 4, 2016, called Recovering from the Committee in My Head.


10 Responses

  1. Sage says:

    Beth, thank you and other Non-believers for having these meetings! I stopped drinking June 26, 2015 after struggling to find an IOP program that let me work the program without all the god stuff (which is a lot). I did find a great program. Awakening Recovery Center told me about your meetings at the pigeon group. It is the only AA meeting I would attend and it is a key to help keep me sober. Thank you!

  2. Thomas B. says:

    Indeed, Beth, a wondrous, heartfelt article rationally explicated for traditional AA members. Thanks.

    With the final resolution recently of the five-year struggle Toronto Secular AA groups experienced to be listed on the Greater Toronto Intergroup Association listing of AA meetings, it is most helpful for all of us to keep in perspective that the vast majority of our meetings are listed by the local Intergroup Associations.

    Yes, there are still holdouts and difficulties experienced, such as presently in Northern California, Denver and Vancouver, BC, but the reality is that glass of AA Intergroups listing secular AA groups is a smidgen empty and mostly quite full and thriving !~!~!

    • life-j says:

      Hmm, Thomas, you missed the update on northern California?

      I went back as Intergroup rep for our regular fellowship around mid-summer, and just started feeding them bits, such as “As Bill ALSO sees it”, and the CD from the PRAASA conference where past trustees spoke in our favor (not related to anything specific), then came the October Grapevine, where my story was read aloud in a number of places, and meanwhile I just passed this stuff around, but never said anything, I think they were all just waiting for me to open the can of worms again, but I didn’t. Finally one time after there had been some discussion about a young people’s meeting where they did somethings un-traditionally, and most people supported it, the chairman just asked the Intergroup whether anyone had a problem with him putting our meeting on the schedule, and no-one protested (the old gang had rotated out long ago) so we’re on, and very un-dramatically.

      • Thomas B. says:

        That’s great, life-j — now that you reminded me, I was aware that progress had indeed been made. This is how it happens by folks such as yourself, staying actively involved in General Service work with Intergroups, our Districts and Area Assemblies.

        It’s sometimes tedious work going to all the meetings and learning the arcane intricacies of the AA Service Manual and the Twelve Concepts of General Service, but it is necessary for our decidedly minority voice to be included in AA and to reverse the reactionary trend of the Back to Basics movement . . .

  3. Pat N. says:

    Many thanks, Beth – an inspiring story of being open and honest. I especially liked the 4th-6th paragraphs, which exactly fit my experience. One of the best explanations of our stance that I’ve seen.

    Thanks for being true to thyself!

  4. Jerry F. says:

    Thank you, Beth. It was well-written and appreciated by those of us in the Phoenix area.

    And “Recovering From the Committee in My Head” was an excellent article that was also presented at the WAAFT-IAAC in Austin.

    An update: We Agnostics now has two more meetings: Wednesday evenings in Gilbert, AZ and a day meeting on Fridays in Tempe, AZ.

    We love visitors so, if you’re in the Phoenix area for any reason, please check us out.

  5. Joe C says:

    I remember that moment in Santa Monica; you weren’t alone. There were others from states other than Arizona, where closet agnostic/atheists met others they knew in AA from their own part of the world. I thought it was quite beautiful.

    I’ve been to secular AA meetings in Cottonwood (Friday) and Phoenix (Sunday). Both were great meetings. It seems like a gentle, healthy recovery culture in Arizona.

    Thanks for sharing, Beth.

  6. Boyd P. says:

    Thanks for toughing it out, finding yet another path. Making our presence known in non-confrontational ways releases others who are on the fence, spiritually. Refining questions rather than answers, listening and reporting what we have heard is empowering.

  7. life-j says:

    Beth, thanks for your heartfelt post. Only when I got to the end did I realize why you did so much explaining of why you are a non-believer. I thought you were preaching for the choir. But explaining it to the wider AA public in your Intergroup I think you did it very well. Maybe now that I read yours I will see if they have a newsletter in Oakland, where I first got sober, since where I am now is not a densely populated area, and we don’t have a newsletter, but this is an important piece of outreach.

  8. Micaela S. says:

    Great essay. I, too, tried to believe for years and finally gave up. “To thine own self be true”. Right? I, too, love love love AA. I just replace God/Higher Power with AA and it works just fine. No resentments. I am coming up on 11 years of continuous glorious sobriety. Yea AA minus the god.

Translate »