About Being Here

Introduction
By Roger C.

life-j is the author of a book published 12 days ago on Amazon, About Being Here.

And he is my friend. We have known each other since early in 2013. A few months later, on June 30, his first article was published on AA Agnostica, My Path in AA. And in the years since then another 16 of his articles have been posted on the website, the last being on May 19 of this year, Higher Powers.

Even though he lives in Northern California and I live in south-western Ontario, we have had the opportunity to spend some personal time together at several events:

  • The secular AA conference, “Widening the Gateway” in Olympia, WA, in January 2016.

  • The International Convention in Austin, TX, later that year in November. At my request, life-j wrote an article about it, The Secular AA 2016 Austin Convention.

  • The “Live and Let Live” SOAAR gathering in Toronto, ON, in September 2017.

  • And, finally, the International Conference of Secular AA (ICSAA), also in Toronto, in August 2018.

Do these events have anything in common? Well yeah! They are all AA. And, in particular, they are secular AA.

Since I have known him, life-j’s goals have been to encourage traditional AA to become inclusive and to support the growth of secular AA. To that end he has also written an article for the AA Grapevine and posted eight articles and shared two podcasts on AA Beyond Belief. And why? Well, it’s all about connection, folks. Connection with others in recovery is crucial for those of us who share that goal. That’s the essential – the “fellowship” – part of AA. And while it is not quite impossible, it is nevertheless very difficult for an agnostic or atheist to make these connections in traditional AA.

Alright, let me conclude. My connection with life-j has always been precious. Sure, we have disagreed from time to time. What human beings don’t? But we obviously connected in 2013 and to this day I consider life-j a unique and special friend.

And I am honored today to share his book with you…

To access the book on Amazon, click on the cover.


Review
By Dr Ray Baker

When I was asked to review life-j’s, About Being Here, my plan was to read a chapter, skim the rest and fire off a quick review.  But he hooked and reeled me in, compelling me to read every word.

Thirty-one years sober in Alcoholics Anonymous, a lifelong atheist, someone who identifies with the “downtrodden”, a survivor of childhood abuse, life-j is eminently qualified to write this book.

Approaching his imminent death from metastatic liver cancer he has no empires to build or scores to settle. Instead, he comes across as someone finally comfortable with himself, filled with gratitude for the program that saved and enriched his life but with grave concerns about changes within AA. First noted by AA’s founder 60 years ago, life-j describes the growing ossification, dogmatic religiosity and intolerance towards diversity he is seeing amongst the “big book thumpers”. This is a cry from within the program directed at members and governance – oops, I meant “trusted servants” – and a call to action.

Click here for a look at the About Being Here Table of Contents.

This book is a must read for anyone genuinely interested in identifying the therapeutically effective components of the Alcoholics Anonymous program (connecting with supportive people, getting abstinent, helping others, doing some work on self), what is not entirely essential (endorsement of a (Christian) deity, unquestioning literal interpretation of a 1939 text written by an untreated alcoholic at 3 years abstinence, insistence upon a single recovery pathway).

The most important message in this wise and thoughtful but bluntly written work is its dire warning to the fellowship. AA’s rapid growth from 1935 to 1990 was unprecedented but then it slowed and stopped. This stagnation coincides with AA’s internal retrograde cultural changes. Just when western culture is becoming more secular and more tolerant to diversity AA is becoming more rigid, intolerant and dogmatic. As an active member of AA’s most rapidly growing subculture, Secular AA (atheist, agnostic, freethinkers), life-j is offering more than complaint and criticism. He makes solid and achievable recommendations for change before it’s too late. The alternative, although not yet irreversible, is already evident: this once remarkably successful recovery phenomenon will continue its slide downwards into insignificant irrelevance.

Dr. Ray Baker MD, FCFP, FASAM, ABAM
Associate Clinical Professor Department of Family Practice
University of British Columbia


Review
By Joe C

One Merriam-Webster definition of “sober” is “showing no excessive or extreme qualities of fancy, emotion, or prejudice”.

About Being Here is “sober”. In the same way skepticism isn’t cynicism, the critical eye of life-j’s essays about AA isn’t disloyalty. Life’s commentary about AA is an inventory that, if good for the alcoholic, is good for the fellowship of alcoholics. From logical fallacies in Alcoholics Anonymous to the history and impact of fundamentalism within AA, life-j speaks with the same devotion and appreciation of AA as the “If it ain’t broke, don’t fix it,” tribe.

I have learned a lot about living and living well from AA friends, like life-j. I’m getting to an age whereby I’m learning about death and dying well, from AA members, too. Some run or hide in magical thinking; life-j faces fate with candor and, to borrow from Merriam-Webster, again, “showing no excessive or extreme qualities of fancy, emotion or prejudice”. About Being Here is a memoir and more. This is life-j’s legacy but it’s also dutifully researched and tempered commentary, in the hopes of looking to a better, health future, instead of gazing into the rear-view mirror on the road of life.

What comes through every page of About Being Here is life’s gratitude for being here. The wealth of experience, strength and hope is his gift to us afforded by his being here. This book is a treasure chest of love and service.

Joe C is author of Beyond Belief: Agnostic Musings for 12 Step Life and host of Rebellion Dogs Radio.


About the Author

life-j was born in Denmark in 1951. He lost any faith in religion which he may have had around the age of eight. He moved to Berkeley at 26, and settled in Oakland for much of his working life and his worst drinking years. He got sober there in 1988. He moved to a small coastal mountain valley village in Northern California in 2002 and helped wake up the sleepy AA fellowship there. He’s been involved in service work of every kind all along, but now thinks the most important work is to help atheists, agnostics and freethinkers feel safe and welcome in AA, and hopefully do a small part in helping AA change with the times and remain alive and well in the 21st century.

He’s spent part of his life as a building contractor, part as a technical translator, and has dabbled a bit in art work and writing. Now mostly retired he lives with his sweetie, dogs, chickens and gardens on a small homestead. He has a daughter of 23 who lives in Italy, and who has never had to see him drink. He has cancer and is not expected to live a whole lot longer, but who knows, you may be stuck with this troublemaker for a little while yet.


To open and/or download a PDF of the article, click here: About Being Here – AA Agnostica.


 

10 Responses

  1. Pete S. says:

    I’m visiting this site because of a recommendation from Life-J in a letter to the Sun Magazine. I’m happy to say AA Agnostica is not exactly the way described in the letter. Just speaking from my own experience, I was an atheist sober in AA for more than twenty years with no negative feedback – but would not say I still am (at least on most days). Nor have I witnessed, at least in meetings, any overt hostility toward members who identify as atheists. Of course, I’m only speaking of AA in the Boston area and here in Asheville. The important thing speaking for myself is that with all the faults – and I agree with much criticism of the Big Book – it works, for believers and nonbelievers alike, whichever umbrella works for them. And since alcoholism is a fatal malady much of the time, anything that works is welcome by me. By the way, if AA were a religious program, as hinted at in the letter, or depended on people telling others what to do, I would say 90 per cent of the membership would high tail it out of there. So, I think AA Agnostica is a plus in the broad world of AA – dualistic thinking is not required and is not present on the AA Agnostica website (thank you). Oh, and I have gone to a few free thinker meetings here in Asheville, and know several members who do – but find the meetings are not for me. Thanks very much.

  2. John B. says:

    life-j; Page after page the book was an enjoyable read. Excluding your sexcapades my thirty year drinking excursion was similar to yours. Lots of beer and towards the end lots of binges. Like you, recovery has brought me to a place where “I mostly like to stay put.”

    Throughout the book I found myself nodding in agreement with your critiques of the fundamental flaws in AA. Far too much emphasis on personal powerlessness and character defects, explained by a guy with only three years of sobriety, who possessed the ability to lay out a smooth sales pitch, based on a multitude of logical fallacies. Your clarification of those fallacies was enlightening. As you say on page 126, Bill Wilson’s realization that he needed to talk to another alcoholic to keep from drinking gave birth to AA, and…”is by far the most important part of the AA program.” It’s a tragedy that this humanistic principle has been shoved aside by those who believe that God got them sober and keeps them sober.

    To me your book is an interesting blend of personal history, AA history, mixed in with some solid editorializing. Thanks for the hard work. At nine bucks this book is a real steal.

  3. Lance B. says:

    The book is on order, Life. I was on a bike in Wyoming last Sunday and missed the review of your book until now. Of course, thanks to you Dr Baker and Joe for reviewing the book.

  4. life-j says:

    Hmm, thank you all. Certainly too much praise for the scared little boy I used to be, to handle. Even the adult before you is still struggling with it. But I guess I better get on with it and jump in. Could be too late soon if I don’t. I’m never faced with this so much as when I at various times have had the opportunity to see most of you stand and talk in front of a crowd, something I still have a real hard time with. I know comparing my insides with Y’all’s outsides is a losing proposition, but I have been asked to speak at a couple of events lately, and while they didn’t work out for reasons of my health, the discrepancy between being able to sit and quietly write by my computer, and standing in front of a crowd is still rather great for me.

    Well, at least I can write. I better appreciate that without getting sidetracked by unprocessed childhood shit.

  5. John S says:

    Life-J is an amazing talent whose help to AA Beyond Belief is much appreciated. His articles are among the most read on our site. He isn’t afraid to challenge common beliefs and assumptions which makes his writing so compelling. I’ll be purchasing this book.

  6. Larry K says:

    Life-J,

    I am really looking forward to reading your wisdoms. You are not just a thinker or feeler but mostly a man of action. The times we’ve met I’ve watched your feet move in the same direction you speak…that is so refreshing.

  7. Murray J says:

    I met life-j at the inaugural Secular Ontario AA in 2017. I had the honour to share a panel discussion with Willow F and life-j at ICSAA 2018. My first impression of him was there is something about him that imparts love and care. That impression grew deeper. I’ve read some, not all, of his writings. His love and care comes across in his words too. I will order the book.

    Thank you Life j.

  8. John M. says:

    You are an inspiration to us all, life-j. I look forward to reading About Being Here.

  9. Thomas B. says:

    Thanks so much Roger for organizing this two-part review by Dr. Ray Baker and Joe C. of life j’s most recent book, About Being Here .

    This is a marvelous, and most deserved, testament to someone whom I’ve been privileged to know and come to cherish on our secular journey through AA since we worked together with others to organize a chatroom for several months here on AA Agnostica between 2013 and 2014. On several occasions when I was driving along the western coast of the US, I was most fortunate to be able to visit him at his “small homestead” in Northern California, where I met “his sweetie” and several of his dogs and chickens, while marveling at his gardens. A highlight of the Austin convention was a meal we shared in a restaurant nearby the hotel where we stayed.

    I greatly admire the courage and fortitude life-j has amply demonstrated these past several years dealing with good humor and jocularity his dire struggle with impending death from cancer. He conveyed to me how disappointed he was to miss our first gathering in Santa Monica due to his recuperation from surgery.

    He is truly exemplifying how one can face death with equanimity, poise, composure, yeah, even great, great, great serenity !~!~! As I face my own gathering demise, I am most grateful to have his positive example, as a result of our fellowship within secular AA to guide me as I descend into the vast, mysterious unknown. No doubt, these past couple of years his journey towards death has motivated him to write his many essays and articles for secular AA.

    Thank you, life-j, for your life – most gracefully and purposefully lived…

  10. Gregg F. says:

    Just ordered it, and can’t wait to read it. BTW, THANK YOU for this review, and this website. Let’s hope we CAN make AA more inclusive.

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