Blowing the Gate Away


By Tom L.

The gates restricting access into AA are being essentially blown away with explosions in recent years of secular literature, meetings, websites and conferences. Detonations in North America and beyond make this evident as a real movement, a movement that may save AA as a still-viable recovery program in communities worldwide.

The recent “Widening the Gateway” conference in Tacoma, Washington is an example of this revolution.

The Tacoma conference took heart from the preceding “Widening the Gateway” conference of two years earlier. That first regional conference in the Pacific Northwest exceeded its own expectations, drawing participants from around the US and Canada.

Though not necessarily anticipating it becoming a regular event, one attendant that day two years ago had an emotional experience that she hoped could inspire others in a similar event in the future. Willow F, one of the founders of the Many Paths secular meetings in Washington, acted from that profound impact on her to begin planning the Tacoma meeting.

With months in the planning, and the cooperation of other secular groups in the Pacific Northwest and British Columbia, Willow was impelled to pull off a professionally executed event. Her dedication, and that of the planning committee, was rewarded. More than 90 conference attendees, guest speakers, and a full day of panels and fellowship, attest to a job well done.

Here is what the day looked like:

Widening the Gateway Conference Agenda
Tacoma, Washington

Saturday, March 31, 2018

Opening remarks and Keynote Speaker, Ray B: “Building Our Recovery Capital as We Trudge Our Many Pathways of Happy Destiny”  [10:00 – 11:00]

Session 1 – Recovery  [Three rooms simultaneously – 11:15 – 12:30]

  • Spirituality in Unchurched AA
  • Evolution of a secular AA group
  • The Core of Recovery

Lunch [12:45 – 1:45]

Session 2 – Service [Three rooms simultaneously – 2:00 – 3:15]

  • Service, the Newcomer, and our Primary Purpose
  • Perspectives on Secular Sponsorship
  • Attracting Young People

Break [3:15 – 3:30]

Session 3 – Unity [Three rooms simultaneously – 3:30 – 4:45]

  • Our Common Welfare
  • Gaining and Retaining Unity
  • Al-Anon and Other Voices

Break [4:45 – 5:00]

Wrap Up Comments and Keynote Speaker “My Life in AA: Past, Present and Future” [5:00 – 6:00]

If regional secular conferences and events, though few in number at this stage, occur elsewhere, it could hearten AA members to start their own local meetings. They could plan their own conferences. They could support the international efforts in secular AA already extant. Ambitious as it may seem, these are real possibilities. AA can remain meaningful to those like us who have had a stagnant, stultifying experience in “traditional” AA.

Grateful to AA for our recovery, nonetheless we were bent like steamed wood into something that we were not. We might have feared rejection in our AA community, or being mocked as unable to “get it.” We found others with our experience and wanted to share it.

The first salvos of the secular revolution have more than widened a gateway. They have revivified AA in a way relevant to many of us. As the smoke from the blown gates clears away, the path is indeed wide open.

Tom L. has lived in Washington State for over 20 years. Now retired, he worked and lived all over the world. His retirement gave him the time to dedicate himself to his destruction with alcohol. He accomplished this in 2009, when cirrhosis and apathy put him near death.

Recovery eventually became fairly typical for this inveterate alcoholic, consisting of AA meetings and service. Not as typical, Tom was fired quickly by his first sponsor, dis-invited from his home group, and released into the “wild” where he doubted AA was for him. He didn’t drink without AA, but he tried to find local meetings where he could be accepted.

He looked for a new home group by attending a number of local AA meetings, settling on a very traditional meeting with a format that many of us will recognize: long recitations from the big book, sharing by others that sacralized everything AA, and closing with the Lord’s Prayer.

Tom found others who wanted a non-dogmatic meeting for all wanting recovery, and the first Many Paths meetings were started in King County 11/1/2015. “Open” in every sense of the word, Many Paths welcomes anyone without restriction.

10 Responses

  1. Joe C says:

    Tom, your enthusiasm comes through in your written words. This kind of feeling/expression, as an equal among peers, never gets old to me. I hope you write more. There is nothing like “being there” but your recounting of the day let me and maybe others feel the next best thing to being there.

  2. Larry K says:

    It makes me smile to read these articles and commentaries from a set of remarkable drunks driven by the desire to help another alcoholic.

    We all have to be worthy of that or none of us will.

    Thank you Tom!

  3. David Polacheck says:

    My late father, Charlie P, worked steadily for decades founding meetings for atheists and agnostics in Los Angeles and Austin. His work lives on!

    • Roger says:

      Charlie P was a key to the origins of meetings for atheists and agnostics in AA. You can read an article about him by clicking on the image below:

      Charlie P

  4. bob k says:

    It’s been exciting to be involved in the Toronto situation which has had far-reaching effects.

    At the Ontario Regional Conference put on by Toronto Intergroup, in 2017 and 2018, the chairpersons were given 4 choices of meeting closings, NONE of which was The Lawd’s Prayer. That’s a stunning change. At Oshawa Intergroup, the Whitby Freethinkers Group has a seat at the table.

    The Human Rights case here has been followed by AA members all over the world. I think the results have sent a message. GSO seems to have adopted the position that ALL groups should be listed. has been at the center of the action. I’m proud of my role here, and proud of my friend, Roger C. I like that we’re publishing literature of value to secularists all over the world.

    There has NEVER been a better time for secularists in AA. Having said all that, the sentiment in traditional AA that opposes change remains very strong.

  5. Karl J. says:

    Hope springs eternal.

  6. life-j says:

    Thanks, looks good. I went to that first round-up in Olympia, a couple of years ago, and it was a great experience. Now I have been trying for months to get help in networking us so we can have more local roundups, but it’s slow going.

    It seems such an obvious thing – help local networking, and have local roundups. All the more since young people with families and jobs, they can’t afford to take a trip across the country for the international event.

    So I would like to appeal again to the people I have asked for help, hoping they read this.

    I certainly do feel powerless here, having asked people to help, and they say they will, and nothing happens.

    The absence of horizontal communication is probably the main stumbling block for growth of secular AA at present.

    • Pat N. says:

      Hang in there, life-j! Your writings and persona have helped more of us than you realize.

      Do you know the 20-80 model of social change? 20% of the people do 80% of the work. I think it’s more like 10-90…

  7. Wisewebwoman says:

    Can’t help feeling envious. However I am feeling more and more support as I come forward out here in holy Newfoundland. Feeling like the only AA free thinker in the province for years and worried about ostracization or intimidation and that hasn’t happened.

    Instead the young uns are coming forward to me confused by the religiosity and finally verbalizing it.

    I have hope.

    • Joe C says:

      We have a chap in Toronto who got sober in a local treatment centre here which holds an Agnostic AA meeting every Sunday AM and when he graduated treatment he became a regular at our local secular AA meetings. He’s returning home to St. John’s where he looks forward to starting a secular AA meeting. It’s a big Province and I don’t know where you live but soon, you won’t be the only agnostic/atheist in Newfoundland:-)

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