Vancouver Sober Agnostics – 2013-2020
By Hilary J
Sober Agnostics had its first meeting on May 7, 2013, and its last meeting on March 10, 2020 (the last Tuesday before the COVID lockdown in B.C.), at Trinity Anglican Church in Vancouver, B.C. As one of the first explicitly agnostic/atheist AA groups in Vancouver, we were in the forefront of the movement to include non-believers in mainstream AA.
Everyone was welcome, regardless of their type of addiction, personal beliefs, gender, or any other characteristic.
Our preamble stated:
“Sober Agnostics welcomes anyone suffering from any type of addiction, not exclusively alcohol. We encourage free expression of any doubts or disbeliefs we may have, our own personal form of spiritual experience, our search for it, or our rejection of it. We do not endorse or oppose any form of religion or atheism. Our only wish is to assure suffering addicts that they can find sobriety in the Program without having to accept anyone else’s beliefs, or having to deny their own.”
We ended every meeting with the Responsibility Declaration:
“I am responsible. Whenever anyone, anywhere, reaches out for help, I want the hand of AA to always be there, and for that, I am responsible.”
Much has been written about our lengthy struggle for acceptance with Vancouver Intergroup. At first, the agnostic groups were listed in the meeting directory. After a change in Intergroup leadership a few months later, they were de-listed. We appealed, and the issue was subject to interminable debates and voting, which went on for many months in 2014. Intergroup eventually voted to “stop discussing the issue”, and agnostic groups remained excluded from the Vancouver AA meeting directory until 2017, when a human rights case in Ontario gained wide publicity. At that point, Vancouver Intergroup decided to include any group that requests to be listed in the meeting directory, with no conditions. It was a sweet, if belated, victory for many of our members, who had fought the good fight for inclusion!
Membership ebbed and flowed over the years, as with most 12-step groups. In the last two years, most meetings had between four and six people, with an occasional surge of up to 10 or 15. By the time of the lockdown, we were down to only four regulars, plus a few other occasional attendees. Due to personal circumstances, two of those four withdrew from the group. At that point, it became clear that the group would no longer be viable.
At least three other groups, none currently active, were started by members of Sober Agnostics. Over the years, the agnostic arm of the Vancouver fellowship has helped dozens of addicts to achieve and maintain sobriety. I am very grateful to have had the opportunity to be involved in this service.
Hilary J. is a Canadian woman in recovery. She grew up as an anglophone in Quebec, and has lived and worked in British Columbia since 1998. After more than 20 years of struggling with various addictions, she attended her first 12-step meeting in 2007. She has been an active member of the Vancouver AA Fellowship since 2010, holding service positions with four different groups over the years. Although she first got sober in mainstream AA, working the traditional Steps, “the God thing” was always an issue. That’s why she jumped at the chance to become one of the founding members of Sober Agnostics, and to help rewrite the Steps and How It Works to reflect the group’s philosophy.