By Dave H.
The second biennial Arizona Secular AA Conference will be held Saturday December 9, 2017 in Tempe, Arizona.
Here’s how it all got started.
There is something about being in a room full of people united in a common purpose that evokes a sense of refuge. For a handful of alcoholics from the Phoenix area this was felt in the fall of 2014 in Santa Monica, California. The occasion was the first international conference of agnostic, atheistic and freethinking members of Alcoholics Anonymous, an event which has since become memorialized in the local parlance as “Santa Monica”.
Many of us have felt isolated to a degree having attended AA meetings of a religious flavor, not knowing if anyone else might also feel ill served by talk of divine intervention.
One AA from Gilbert Arizona who made the trip to Santa Monica excitedly anticipated meeting other like-minded and freethinking sober alcoholics since he had, for over two decades, thought himself to be the “only atheistic AA member in the East Valley” of the greater Phoenix area. Imagine his surprise when someone who had volunteered to chair the discussion in a break-out session at the conference introduced herself as an alcoholic from Mesa Arizona, also part of the so called East Valley.
Then, in this assembly of less than thirty people, two more spoke up and relayed that they, too, live in the East Valley. Four out of thirty! Must have been a god thing, hehe.
It didn’t take long for this small band of newly found friends to begin planning a bold endeavor upon their return to the valley. Aware of the delisting of the Beyond Belief and the We Agnostics groups in Toronto three years earlier, they planned, with a bit of trepidation, to test the willingness of the East Valley Intergroup to list an openly non-religious AA meeting.
On their return it was learned that a meeting called We Agnostics, Atheists and Freethinkers had been started in Phoenix earlier in the month and had been listed without controversy by the Salt River Intergroup. Encouraged, and fueled by the belief that more is better when it comes to meetings, they started the second meeting ever for non-religious AAs in Tempe, and the name “We Agnostics” was chosen. Success again – East Valley Intergroup listed the meeting willingly.
Attendance at meetings began to grow in fits and starts. As more people learned of the “secular” meetings they also learned of the conference which had been held in Santa Monica, and the plan to have another one in 2016 in Austin Texas. There were many who hadn’t learned about “Santa Monica” until it was over.
If impatience is a character trait of alcoholics it soon became clear that two years was too long to wait for another gathering of the secular in AA. Soon it was suggested by the former “only atheistic AA member in the East Valley” that a state secular conference in the intervening year – 2015 – might be realizable.
Getting in touch with the organizers of Santa Monica for advice, and drumming up enthusiasm here in Arizona, a loose-knit group began investigating the possibility of what would be a regional “gathering of the faithless,” which, ultimately, it was hoped, might continue to occur in the alternate years between the international conferences.
Most alcoholics are talented people (no surprise) who, when sober, can accomplish with ease projects that they often had abandoned in dismay during their drinking years. Such turned out to be the case as the statewide regional conference came together.
One of the organizers of Santa Monica, Dorothy H., was prevailed upon to give a keynote address and Nick H. from Austin Texas, chair of the international conference host committee, came to give an update on the international conference.
Local yokels participated on panels directed toward topics such as “Agnostic on the Steps,” “What the Hell is a ‘Freethinker’,” and “Secular Meetings are Still AA” which followed with Q and A. Five sober drunks put on a humorous skit written and directed by another member. The fellow who volunteered to emcee the affair surprised us all when he produced his guitar at the end and closed the meeting with a song.
We had attendees from Colorado, Texas, Nevada, California, and a number of Arizona towns. The conference was a daylong event with 40 sober drunks enjoying themselves on a Phoenix November Saturday with a catered lunch and plenty of coffee and tea.
This year we have invited Joe C. from Toronto to talk about the delisting of the two groups by the Toronto Area Intergroup, and the eventual resolution and relisting of them, and about the upcoming International Conference of Secular Alcoholics Anonymous (ICSAA) next year in Toronto, among other things.
There will be panel discussions, more music this year, catered lunch, and Phoenix December weather for out-of-towners who might want to come early and leave late in order to knock around town a little. We hope that our conference can continue on the alternate years between the ICSAA conferences.
Meanwhile in daily sober living there is a growing awareness in this area that recovery needn’t depend on theology or mysticism.
Meetings have now become groups, and groups have spawned meetings and new groups have formed and been listed. Today the greater Phoenix area boasts 13 meetings per week at six different venues scattered around the valley and Cottonwood Arizona to the north and Tucson in southern Arizona now have three meetings each.
We hope that news of the flourishing secular option within Alcoholics Anonymous which we are experiencing may give atheistic, agnostic and freethinking alcoholics in other areas courage to make similar efforts.
Dave is 73 years old. He took his last drink February 18, 1982. He had acquired a taste for beer in Colorado where, in the sixties, it was legal to drink “3.2 beer” at age 18. The legal theory at the time was that beer of only 3.2% alcohol wouldn’t make a person drunk. He disproved that theory on his eighteenth birthday and became an inveterate beer drinker thereafter. Dave, the beer drinker, has been heard to claim that he probably didn’t drink enough whiskey during the following twenty years to fill a bath tub. Nevertheless he became a hopeless alcoholic—hopeless until he found Alcoholics Anonymous. Happy these days about the growth, at long last, of non-religious AA around the country, he tries to help, as best he can, with Arizona’s secular AA conferences and also by carrying the message that AA is available to any alcoholic, even those without religious inclinations.