Can AA Please Evolve?

By Dave W

One of the things I admire the most about the simplicity of the way AA meetings are structured and conducted is the level playing field that is created for the typical one-hour duration of the gathering. No one is above anyone else. Even the chairperson, whose primary responsibility is to keep the meeting on course and at least reasonably timed, is asked to identify as an alcoholic and share a portion of their story at the beginning of the meeting.

We are a flawed, imperfect and broken peer support group in various stages of recovery. In meetings it’s common to feel a sense of admiration and compassion at the candor and courage people show when telling their stories, revealing details of past mistakes and blunders that would get you kicked out of a lot of social circles, job opportunities, and some families if the details were repeated outside our meeting rooms.

Despite AA’s simplistic structure, when change does happen it is excruciatingly slow. The plodding pace is understandable when one is dealing with a decentralized structure where autonomy flows from the bottom upwards. Change will be gradual, cautious and measured. Unfortunately, the process is handicapped further by a reluctance to understand that times change, societal norms evolve, and new knowledge about alcoholism and addiction continues to become available.

If I were to play word association, and someone said “AA” to me, my first response might be “dated”. When I attend meetings I often feel as if I have fallen into a time machine and am back in another era. Members display AA’s flagship piece of literature, an eighty-year-old book written in an archaic style and based on an understanding of alcoholism that was prevalent in the 1930s. I personally cringe at the thought of telling a newcomer that there is nothing new under the sun about alcoholism and addiction. It was all known in the 1930s. The book dismisses anyone who is an atheist or agnostic and makes it clear to them that if you do not get god you will not get sober. The sexism in the book is embarrassing and seems to imply that female alcoholics are as rare as hen’s teeth. There does not seem to be much appetite to archive the original text and present a more timely and relevant volume.

In meetings one of the first things a newcomer may notice is an apron proudly displayed across the table where the chair and speaker sit, giving the founding date of the group. Black and white pictures of Bill and Bob often adorn the walls. Slogans are displayed prominently, frequently in a font that reminds one of biblical passages. I am grateful AA has survived the decades to be here for me, but I don’t understand why there’s such an obsession with the past. I worry about the disconnect many newcomers must feel from a presentation from a different era.

In gatherings there are times when AA takes on a cult like behavior. At the Ontario Regional Conference at the Sheraton Hotel in Toronto last year, I sat in the auditorium with two fellow secular AA members awaiting the opening speaker. I witnessed what I thought at the time and still do a bizarre and creepy spectacle, the conference participants walking to the stage while almost everyone in the audience rising to their feet and clapping in unison to a precise rhythmic cadence. As I remained sitting with my two non-participating friends, I wondered how many people who joined in the ritual were thinking this is stupid, I feel awkward, why am I doing this but were too intimidated to remain seated. It did not look like an effort to show appreciation to the participants, it came off as a robotic and an extremely uncomfortable ritual practice. The act may have looked harmless, but it appeared as an intent to control people’s behavior. Synchronized clapping has nothing to do with getting or remaining sober, but if you can get people to engage in mindless rituals it’s easier to get them to conform to the dogma and rigidity that exists in some meetings and the literature.

Ritualism and repetition find their ways into AA in a multitude of behaviors and beliefs. A cornerstone of many meetings is an obsession with readings that are narrow and dated. It is amazing that there is any time left for people to share their personal stories and issues given the plethora of readings done at some meetings and other events. At any given gathering a combination of The Steps, The Traditions (don’t forget to chant “principles before personalities”), The Promises, The Concepts, How it Works, Yesterday Today and Tomorrow, The Spiritual Experience, The Serenity Prayer, and often of course, everyone’s favorite, the Lord’s Prayer are trotted out.

And if the readings are not sufficient to fill an hour, we have slogans aplenty. Think, Think, Think. You Are Not Alone. Let Go and Let God. First Things First. But for the Grace of God. Stick With the Winners…. On and on and on.

This obsession with repetitious readings and slogans makes it difficult for meetings to unfold organically and allow attendees to speak freely on present moment situations. Spontaneity is lost and people are taught to put their current problems on the back burner and talk about the chosen reading instead. There seems to be a rule in some meetings that if your present situation does not dovetail with the chosen topic at hand, you better not speak. It is also an effective way to prevent dreaded outside issues being discussed. We can’t have you talking about non-alcohol related addictions; this is AA. Take your childhood trauma, your PTSD, your OCD, your other sundry mental health issues out of the rooms. Whether these problems contribute to your drinking or not, if it is not covered in the Big Book, we do not want to hear it.

One of the unfortunate legacies of AA has been the white male heterosexual Christian dominance of the fellowship. Yes, it is changing. There are now meetings for women, for LGBTQ individuals, for agnostics and atheists, for people for whom language is a barrier. Despite this evolution, narrowness and bigotry still occur. In recent issues of our local Intergroup’s newsletter a picture appears on the last page announcing members sober milestones. It looks like a sketch from the early days of AA. Every person in it looks to be either a middle age or old white man. No women. No minorities. Given what has happened in recent months and years with the emergence of the Me Too and Black Lives Matter movements, the picture is horribly tone deaf in a newsletter in 2020. We are not in violation of tradition 10 by having an opinion on outside issues if we are simply showing respect for and awareness of diversity.

If there is a silver lining for the current pandemic, it has been the opportunity to sit in on-line meetings and hear people from all over North America and other parts of the world share their experiences in traditional AA. It has been a revelation to hear people’s gratitude in finding our growing secular groups and talk openly about the struggle of fitting into meetings where their core beliefs and values don’t mesh with the traditional god centric literature. It becomes clear quickly when hearing these stories that there is no one size fits everyone approach to recovery and it’s ok to go off the common path of getting a sponsor and working the traditional version of the steps as soon as you walk in the door.

I have enormous gratitude for the secular meetings I found in Toronto in May of 2018 when my drinking was out of control. Even though I was not close to dying, I believe these meetings and the people I met in them have prolonged my life. Yes, these meetings too have readings. Yes, they have some ritual practices. I am totally at home with chanting “Hi, so and so” when a fellow member identifies. At one meeting, The Serenity Prayer, minus the G word, is recited in unison. The responsibility declaration is read routinely at the close. None the less, the meat of these gatherings is largely what participants decide it is. People are free to talk on what they need to at any given point. I have yet to be censored for any of my words even though I frequently speak of personal issues where the linear path back to my drinking may not always be clear. It is quite the contrast to what I feel in many traditional meetings where my mind seems to dwell more on whether what I want to share is acceptable or not. I believe traditional AA could benefit greatly from taking the handcuffs off. AA is not going to die if non-conference approved readings are done in a meeting, or an “outside issue” is discussed or if, God forbid, we actually rewrite the Big Book to reflect current times. It may die however if fear of change continues to weigh the fellowship down in a past that still looks too much like the 1930s.

David is a sixty two year-old agnostic alcoholic whose drinking career began late in life after growing up with an alcoholic father. After twelve years of daily drinking, he came to believe that a substance greater than himself trapped him in the same addictive cycle that had trapped various members of his family on both sides. Desperate for outside help, he found secular AA on-line in 2018 and was able to avoid the conflict with religion and a mandatory belief in god that traditional AA insists on imposing on members. His home group is Beyond Belief Toronto and he will be two years sober in December 2020.


40 Responses

  1. Mango says:

    Love it.

    • Jimmy A. says:

      Thank You for sharing your experience, strength, and hope to this “still suffering Alcoholic” since I cannot attend AA meetings here or my Home Group pretty much since last March. Due to COVID.

      My response is just the same as I always do when I reply a la slash comment. AA Has 12 TWELVE TRADITIONS. The program is “SUGGESTED”.
      I personally don’t like the “Take It Or Leave It”.

      “God either is or He (she, it, universal spirit, a lamppost, etc) isn’t.” “The choice is up to you.” Sobriety is a choice. Step III is an “act of the will.”

      Enjoy all things because today is all we have. May Peace and Love guide your journey…

  2. Rand T. says:

    Thanks for your thoughts. I have been alcohol and drug free since 1972 and have participated in AA since then as well. One of the things that kept me coming back was the “take what you need and leave the rest” slogan. That has served me well. Certainly the people who attend AA are imperfect as were those that developed the program. I have always been a bit of a “trouble maker”, and have suggested many times in many of the groups I have attended that the prayer at the end of the meeting was not something that included everyone. Some people agreed some didn’t. No one lit me on fire. The regular group I attend has started using a loving kindness meditation at the end of the meeting. Since we started doing that the group has grown.

    I think looking for the good is more useful that looking for what we don’t like. Attaching to negatives is a human trait. Our brains have a negativity bias, it’s hard wired and protective but it can also get us in trouble. In fact, negative bias was likely at the root of many of our addictions. This hurts – this makes it not hurt so much. We had to change how we saw things to change how we felt and behaved.

    I was at a meeting in Toronto a few years ago and the woman who opened the meeting read the promises. Then she said “if you want to stay sober go to meetings if you want the promises to come true do the steps”.
    Fundamentally AA is a cognitive behavioural therapy program. Change your thinking , change your behaviour. The underlying principles in the steps teach us (or at least they did me) a different way of thinking to manage my life. I didn’t know how to really do anything other than drink or drug to cope with any successes or failures. AA (steps) gave me a path to reprogram my brain.

    I’ve attended secular meetings all over North America and non secular ones as well. I have always felt acceptance perhaps because that’s what I truly needed, it is also what I try to give.

    The science around addiction is established the science around recovery is quickly evolving. John Kelly from Harvard and William White’s work have increasingly shown that there are many ways to get there but also that AA is a very effective program. Can we add to it? Absolutely! Do we need to tear it apart? Probably not.

    The thing in the “big book” that has been most important to me is the line that we need to become “more patient, tolerant, kind and loving”. I didn’t really know how to do that, I have used those words to try and make a difference in me and for those I interact with. One of the most important things that has allowed me to do it to look at things I don’t really like or that make me uncomfortable as opportunities rather than threats. That lens allows me to respond rather than react and that allows me to move past that negativity bias and grow rather than fight.

    Anyway, just some thoughts from an old guy. Be careful out there.

    • David W says:

      Thank you for your response Rand. I’m totally in agreement that we should add to what currently exists in AA. It’s obvious to me the fellowship needs to evolve and change as new knowledge and understanding of recovery becomes available. AA doesn’t need to be torn apart but I think we need to recognize when something becomes outdated and needs to be retired. There’s so many antiquated hurdles in the Big Book for a recovering addict to jump over in 2020, it’s time to write a more contemporary and inclusive book to replace it.

      I would also challenge the notion that the 12 steps should be the sole core program of AA in 2020. I’ve met enough sober people in the secular rooms who didn’t do step work to know the steps are not the panacea that some people would have you believe they are. We don’t need to do away with them but I think it’s critical to AA’s evolution to allow people in meetings to express alternative approaches that have worked for them. The 12 steps are not omnipotent.

      • Rand T. says:

        Agreed, certainly not the only thing. It does provide a commonality for discussion. There are many pathways to recovery.

        Enjoy the day.

  3. Larry g says:

    Nice article Dave. Thx. Every few months I email the following message to the GSO NY HQ. I suspect if enough folks consistently hammer similar messages it will drive some evolution:

    “I truly love the book One Big Tent. It has made all the difference for me. Might I also suggest a rewriting of the Big Book’s first 164 pages with the following considerations: 1) make it gender neutral, 2) make it religious neutral by eliminating any reference to a god, 3) have the chapter “We Agnostics” actually written by an agnostic/atheist or group of the same, and 4) have the chapters “To Wives” and “The Family Afterwards” actually written by a group of practicing Al-Anon’s.”

    “The idea would be that this version would be an optional resource for those of us that find the regular Big Book offensive. I can’t begin to tell you how many young people, non-believers, females, LGBTQ’s, African Americans, and other minorities have fled AA because it just does not meet their needs. We must and can do better. I know we have tried this in the past but efforts stalled. I’m not sure why?? I will agree that this kind of effort will generate some short term controversy and challenge. In my humble opinion that is not the enemy of unity, but rather the price of staying relevant.”

    “I know that AA has not had a census increase since the early 90’s. I know for a fact that many will not attend AA because it is trapped in a cultural perspective that is predominantly Male, white, and Christian. We can and must do better at meeting more people’s needs. There will be growing pains. The benefit of maintaining the status quo will be artificial unity. The cost of the same will be decline and eventual non relevance.”

    I love AA and just want to see us do better!!

    Best Regards and Inclusively,

    Larry g

    • Teresa says:

      Thanks Larry.

      …and the evolution has to occur from the membership, utilizing our General Service Reps and District Committee members to take our voices to our Delegates, and on to the the yearly conference. Which means to me that more of us who want these changes need to be involved. It’s difficult and all that you mentioned are being discussed as needed change, and more, at least in some areas. I say, let’s not give up.


      • Rita says:

        I agree Teresa. I am an outgoing DCM in my Area. I got involved with service because I am Agnostic and wanted to have a voice.

        There was a motion that went before the conference last year and they agreed to continue considering another book that is in in plain language and appeals to a diverse community including Atheists and Agnostics. Some items don’t even make the conference agenda by the way and if my memory serves me, I believed it was narrowed this year due to Covid and holding it virtually.

        It does no good to complain and not get involved in the service structure of AA. I too believe that AA is on its way out if it doesn’t evolve. In my Area the motion failed to revise the Big Book to be more inclusive. Any changes to the Big Book take an unbelievable amount of time and must be agreed upon by the membership. The One Big Tent book is published by Grapevine, and Grapevine and does not need the approval of the membership. Our conference approved literature either takes the membership approval with the exception of some literary corrections or full membership approval.

        Fortunately some of the Grapevine book topics are more diverse. There are a host of magazine articles over the years by atheists and agnostics. If you can get your hands on their book Step by Step: Real AAs, Real Recovery, each chapter has an entry by one of us in how they interpret the step for their program. That is if someone wants to work the steps because, as we all know, they are a “suggested” program of recovery.

        Some once commented in an article here about not wanting to hear what they don’t like about the program… but wanting to hear what they do to stay sober. I got involved in service work, use the principles, narrow down to a few key words in the steps, help to start and register an agnostic meeting with GSO and regularly attend an agnostic meeting where we are free to share about whatever we need to without judgement or question. I do agree that sometimes picking a topic can seem robotic and we default to that if no one starts us off. I am hoping along with another outgoing DCM to approach next years convention committee to have an atheist agnostic workshop and meeting on the schedule.

        I don’t believe in a shampoo model jesus nor a sky god but I am still a grateful alcoholic with a lot of passion, morals, in awe of nature, know I will feel better if I regularly “worship”/respect it and I have faith. Faith in science. And I pray and meditate. But my prayer is pretty much based on poetry. And I stayed sober now for 26 yrs without an interventionist deity or intercessory prayer. So that’s how I stayed sober but if I want to change AA it takes getting involved at the service level.

        • Roger says:

          Here is one of the books Rita mentioned:

          Step by Step

        • Teresa says:

          Thank you Rita! Yes. Yes. Yes. I “grew up” on the Living Sober book… small, practical and published much closer to the time I got sober than 1935.

          Just became “service sponsor” to a woman sober 2 years… her face showed much surprise when I shared that I am agnostic and part of a couple of groups where many do not have a God or HP and many of us have been living sober over three decades. I am no longer “afraid” to share honestly in traditional meetings and mindfully in regards to having a different outlook, experience. Grateful for that. I’ll check out the book you mentioned.

          This has been a great discussion thread. Thanks to all! Teresa

        • Larry g says:

          Hey Rita, I love that you have 26 years w/out the usual AA blather. Good for you and good for us. So glad you found an action plan that works for you.

          Regarding complaining I offer the following thoughts. Some times getting disentangled from any type of mess (any form of unhealthy dependence on substances, behaviors, relationships, patterns, dogma’s etc) begins with awareness/acknowledgment of what the problem is. Then motivation has to grow to no longer want to be that and to move toward something else. This early stage of change and growth is often characterized by AA’s rank and file as complaining/whining and we often then shut it down. I try no longer to do that. Some of us have needed to marinate a long time in that space before we could take the next steps in growing/changing. I’m grateful four your dedicated service!!!

      • Larry g says:

        Thx Theresa, I value the insight and clarity.

  4. Russel S says:

    Hello Dave W

    Thank you for your article. It is one that I have been meaning to write for ages. I live in Cape Town South Africa and unfortunately there are not that many meetings for me to choose from albeit that there are (pre-pandemic) probably around 2 or 3 meetings per day in metropolitan area.

    I identified with much you have written and can relate it to my own experiences in traditional AA. As a self proclaimed “free thinker” I was somewhat ostracized from traditional AA for simply speaking my mind ad opting out of rituals. In fact, in one meeting I was told directly that if I didn’t find god I should go out and continue drinking until I did. That prompted me to become the co-founder of Cape Town’s first secular AA meeting. Someone much wiser than me said something like – “if you want change, be the change”.

    Pre-pandemic, I regularly shared my “experience, strength and hope” to patients in treatment facilities. I would always begin with the following disclaimers:

    1. Singleness of purpose -i.e. to only talk about my alcoholism. I am as much an drug-addict, gambler and sex-addict as I am an alcoholic. My life was never compartmentalized. For me, it is impossible to talk only of alcoholism and ignore my other addictions which were just as destructive to my life. I am certain many other’s will identify with this and can benefit from listening to my story the way I tell it.
    2. Conference approved literature -i.e. to talk only about books that AA sells at meetings. I find it extremely difficult to place my trust in a book that has it’s roots as conceived and compiled by a drunk between 1935 and 1939 when it was published. I find it terribly written and horrifyingly patronizing. So much more has been learned about addiction, alcoholism ad mental illness since then, that telling people to ignore other articles, literature, videos and podcasts that can help people like me is simply wrong.

    The number of patients that have thanked me for my honesty and refreshing attitude to recovery has now exceeded the rebukes that I received from speaking my mind in traditional meetings. Perhaps like Lance, I should endeavor to “bite the bullet” and attend some of those meetings to make new-comers aware of Secular AA and it’s benefits.

  5. Colman P. says:

    I really like what you have to say here. Like you there is so much that I love about AA and would always want to maintain its ramshackle, disorganised, unmanaged, non-hierarchal mode. But it also need to be contemporary and to reflect the norms of life in 2020.

  6. Dean W says:

    Dave, thanks for a very interesting article. I take issue with one point you made – that AA as an organization has a “simplistic structure.” I think the structure of AA is fairly sophisticated, attempting to balance group autonomy with the overall unity of the fellowship through a genuinely democratic service structure that theoretically controls the corporate arms of AA. Many AA members and groups are indeed simplistic, but the overall organization is not.

    Regarding the evolution of AA, we would do well to ask, “What do we think AA can or will evolve into?” AA is a religious organization. Do we think that will change? Not likely. Do we think AA will evolve into a more liberal/less dogmatic religious organization that is capable of and willing to embrace its secular minority? That seems more realistic. But would that be sufficient? Second class citizenship in a religious organization, even a tolerant one, doesn’t interest me. Everyone else in secular AA can speak for themselves. Or can they? What we read here is hearsay and anecdotal evidence of what the secular AA movement wants. Are the ostensible leaders of the movement willing and able to accurately survey the membership? Until that happens, or until secular AA establishes its own democratic service structure, we’re flying blind.

    • David W says:

      Thanks for your feedback Dean. You make a valid point about the complexity of AA s service structure.

      I would say that there is an energy in the secular meetings I don’t experience in most of the traditional meetings I’ve attended. People are not shy about openly rejecting what are considered staples of AA if they don’t jibe with their personal recovery plan. I’ve known several people who have gotten sober in AA without doing step work, without having a sponsor, without having a higher power, God or otherwise. What I hope is we can practice tolerance to diverse approaches rather than merely preaching it. The label on the triangle says recovery not 12 steps. To me, recovery encompasses much more than step work.

      • Dean W says:

        You’re most welcome, Dave, and I agree about the energy and open mindedness in secular AA. The Big Book paradigm of recovery, while it still works for some, has lost its claim to exclusivity, even within AA. What will replace it?

  7. Bullwinkle says:

    For me, neither the 12 Steps, which is the AA text or the AA fellowship / meetings needs to evolve.

    The AA text is a suggested program of recovery, not the AA fellowship / meetings. As an atheist, I didn’t follow some of what’s suggested, yet taking the steps, which is self-examination, facilitated my recovery.

    Each AA fellowship / meetings is autonomous, the group conscience can run their meeting format as they see fit. I don’t attend meetings with formats of which I don’t agree.

  8. Jim says:

    The reasons why I evolved out of AA are all there.

  9. Dan H. says:

    I keep repeating myself here, but:

    Where I live (coastal Southern California), there is a greater tendency toward liberalism in meetings, “outside issues” are less circumscribed, and there is a lot of young energy.

    My ongoing suggestion is that a new and updated book be soft-pedalled as an “adjunct” and allow the archiving of the current book to be organic over time.

    • David W says:

      The flavor and makeup of AA does seem to be very much a function of geography and cultural norms. Luckily I live in city with over five hundred weekly meetings to choose from (pre-pandemic). Even if secular AA didn’t exist, I could probably find meetings I would feel safe and at home in. My concern is breaking barriers down in regions where Christian fundamentalism represses inclusion and change.

      The attachment people in AA have to the Big Book in it’s present form perplexes me. In doing service in the traditional AA structure I’ve come in contact with some very accomplished and capable individuals. This contradicts the blind reverence to an eighty year old document that speaks to people in an era long gone that many people seem to have. I wish we could move past the fear of change.

    • Bullwinkle says:

      Going on 41 Years ago, Dan H., my sobriety began in Malibu where I lived. I also attended AA meetings in Santa Monica, Venice, and West LA. Being an atheist, with my tendency toward liberalism, I never had any pushback at those AA meetings.

      • Dan H. says:

        We’ve probably met – I lived in all those places, met my wife at the Brentwood Workshop in 88 – in Oceanside now.

        • Bullwinkle says:

          I wouldn’t be surprised that we’ve met or recognize each other, Dan.

          I attended the Brentwood workshop for years, as well as Ohio Street that Clancy Imislund and a few others began years before I got sober. It’s my contention, that directly and / or indirectly, Clancy Imislund helped more alcoholics recover than any other AA fellowship member in AA history. He helped others as the managing director the Los Angeles Midnight Mission.

          Another meeting I attended Bob Earl started, where there was no AA literature read or payers, no 7th tradition, just sharing in a circle. I’ve attended meetings in Oceanside where my baby brother lives and Laguna Beach where another brother lives. Another of my siblings lives in Point Loma, where I’ve attended meetings.

  10. Eric says:

    Thanks Dave and commenters.

    I heard early on, “Change you must or die you will.”

    I believe this applies not only to individual recovery but to AA as well.

    What can we do to help change AA?

  11. Don Ross says:

    I have had a similar experience. But I wondered as I read your article if it isn’t really evidence that AA is evolving. You did find Secular AA.

    I think there is some benefit though in much of what appears to be dogma. As I talk about in my book Happy Hypnosis & the Twelve Steps, hypnosis and repetition are the two main ways to change subconscious patterns (and I believe much of our alcohol problems are rooted in subconscious patterns). Those readings that seem to be dogma do have a message for change (brainwashing hee hee). When they are repeated over and over at some point they have a beneficial effect at a subconscious level. (I needed my brain washed.)

    I have been agnostic through most of my recovery and feel more atheistic now. I attend meetings to share my belief that you don’t have to share any certain belief to benefit from the Twelve Steps. Even Dr Bob consented that the Buddhist Noble Eightfold Path could be used in place of the steps and people could recover. Bill W. has said that you could replace the word God with good in the Steps and be fine. I am hopeful AA is evolving and excellent articles like yours are proof of it 🙂

    Happy Hypnosis

  12. Teresa says:

    Thank you Dave. So much packed in this. Yes, AA must change and the often heard “slogan” I hear in General Service gatherings… “there are no emergencies in AA”, may prove to be false before too long.

    A revised big book… many concerns raised by many members… may happen.

    Watch for a video summary of a report from literature committee to be put on dashboard of as soon as Spanish and French translations are completed.

    With continued growth of secular meetings (thanks to zoom for more accessibility), I am trying to stay hopeful so the still suffering, whether in attendance at meetings or not, can be helped by connecting with others who cannot drink safely.

    Teresa, Monterey, Live and Let Live group (no prayer, no steps, traditions or promises read).

    • David W says:

      Thank you Teresa. I’ll watch with interest the video you’ve mentioned. In the district in my home group in Toronto there was a formal discussion earlier in the year to a proposal to develop a fifth edition of the Big Book. Unfortunately the discussion was put on the back burner due to the pandemic.

      At the time my initial reaction to the proposal I read was that the suggested changes were not as far reaching as they needed to be, with Revisions primarily to the Medical View and Religious View appendices. My own belief is we need to archive the original body of the text and create a more timely and inclusive book. The rigidity and datedness of the original text is not very compatible to inclusiveness in my opinion.

      • Teresa says:

        David, yes, I would be thrilled if the “original” 164, were archived or titled “Alcoholics Anonymous: Historical Big Book”.

        Due to the world wide translations and the revenue of the book, “Alcoholics Anonymous”, it’s most likely here to stay.

        A more relevant, inclusive, plain language, gender neutral book, if and when published, will be in addition to the “Big Book”, not a replacement. That is my understanding from info I’ve gathered and discussions I’ve heard. Book sales will then determine the future of what is most useful, perhaps.

        As Rita shared, the Grapevine publications are more varied, inclusive, faster in publishing…

        Oh, to add a little humor… I heard at a Pacific Regional Forum…

        “A.A. is a very strange book club.”

        • Bullwinkle says:

          I’ve heard 1000’s reference the AA text (Big Book) as 164 pages, this is a misnomer, it’s goes beyond 164. The AA text PREFACE reads, “Bill’s Story,” “Doctor Bob’s Nightmare,” and one other personal history from the first edition were retained intact; The third story was Bill Dotson an attorney in Akron and a city councilman. The picture of the man on the bed, is Bill Dotson.

          The PREFACE also shows how the AA fellowship evolved, influencing revisions to the second and third editions. I’ve witnessed, thus the way I see it, the AA fellowship / meetings evolved for the better, e.g. allowing those that are poly-addicted to share other drug addiction(s) in addition to alcohol, where years ago it wasn’t allowed.

  13. Dan L says:

    Thanks for the essay. I love it when somebody else eloquently expresses what I am thinking.

    Unfortunately the freedom granted by our Traditions comes without responsibility to the organisation as a whole. A simple expression of unity doesn’t cut it. We do not have a robust and effective mechanism for timely change. It is a direct result of our being able to personally do whatever we please without fear of ejection. The most primitively Neanderthal vision of AA recovery exists beside one which is fully up to date with science and medicine… and everything in between.

    All we can do is actively promote our approach and show it works. My counsellor in treatment told me, “Make AA work for you!” With the help of like minded friends who were here before me I was able to craft an AA program for myself that I can fit into AA. The Fellowship and camaraderie of people struggling with life in non-practicing addiction are essential for me. The frills and window dressing and superstition and anti-science bias are not. Change has to come from the bottom and work it’s way up. It is too bad there is so much fear (terror?) and resistance. Isn’t fear and fear of change pointed out repeatedly as being major problems? We will change or become a relic – to quote Bob K – a “Social Club for Old People”.

  14. Bobby Freaken Beach says:

    Alcoholics Anonymous will be open to changing ALL of its literature about ten, more probably twenty, years after its too late. Once the horse has fled, there will be some interest in shutting tight the old barn door.

    AA has a shrinking population and an aging population. A lot of today’s old white guys won’t be around in ten or fifteen years. I KNOW there are exceptions, but AA has never been so much a social club for old people as it is today.

    On a more positive note, the title of the chapter TO WIVES might get changed to MAKE ME A SANDWICH. Who doesn’t like a nice freaken sandwich?

  15. Doc says:

    My experience with meetings has been different. Most of the meetings that I have been to have been relatively informal with little ritual. In many of them, there have been little reading from the literature. I should note that most of the meetings have been small – less than 10 people. While I’ve been to large meetings, my preference has been for smaller meetings.

  16. Lisa M says:

    Hiya Dave! W You wrote so perfectly what I feel about all those things in the meeting, the slogans, the font (YES!), the no time to talk after the readings and so forth I felt you dragged them out of the inner me! So one of the best I like w/regard to “it is as if no progress had been made in medical science” – when the reading HOW IT WORKS goes into “RARELY HAVE we seen a person fail who has thoroughly followed our path” …there were only about 100 people in AA at the time that was written and so how big a sample is that?! Insignificant.

    Well anyway, I know that the world has opened up with zoom as you mentioned and there are many more podcasts with guest speakers or tapes of ZOOM meetings there are so many options. I will note that I mostly listen to the zoom meetings when they are taped and I noticed there could be some 300 or more participants but, in an hourly format, not much time for many to actually speak. So I have shifted to listening to interview podcasts where the topic is of interest. I get more of a message / more on the topic that way. I wonder what others think about the zoom format. I have yet to go to any in person meeting since February 2020.

  17. Lance B. says:

    One fact is that AA and age have dimmed my vision. It is important and valuable for newer members to observe and write about how archaic many of our habits are. So thank you for a fresher view, Dave.

    One observation I remember helped me just a bit in early sobriety. I noted that I was tolerant of virtually anything another person said in a meeting, but felt what I said had to be wise and appropriate. One day when I was doing physical labor in a room with another fellow I did not know well, I berated myself for some mistakes I’d made which might or might not have been obvious to him. He said words to the effect of: You certainly are hard on my friend, Lance.

    I find myself judging what I say, regularly joining a Zoom discussion and afterward beating myself up for saying inappropriate, immature, or irrelevant things after the meeting is over. The most articulate and thoughtful speakers enjoy visiting many Zoom meetings and expressing themselves so wisely and well that I am intimidated, as a well educated long time sober member, from trying to express myself for fear of sounding foolish.

    Turning that around, I frequently intimidate new members in my home group with my erudition and well thought out premises about sobriety and how my sober self hangs together logically. Oh, I’m tolerant and encouraging to them of course–and I do pride myself upon the many people who were on the fringes of meetings and very close to leaving whom I encouraged into become fully functioning members of the group. But I often hear also that my persistent asking them what they thought almost scared them out of the room. And there may be people I don’t remember because they did leave out of that fear.

    I now think it is sometimes important for me to look like a fool in meetings just so that people who feel they have nothing worthwhile to say see that even old timers are not always overwhelmingly insightful. Of course being an atheist and peculiar to many others presents many opportunities to look like a fool to them.

    Now I wonder whether I dare post this treatise which wanders off the topic of your most excellent article, Dave.

  18. Paul S. says:

    Thanks for that, Dave. That traditional format has kept me from meetings. The reading a paragraph from outdated “scripture”. The misogyny and racism. The scolding for “cross talking” even in an agnostic meeting. I understand the need for expressing personal feelings and the therapy it provides, but I can do that looking in a mirror. There are times I need a discussion. I’m told that is for after a meeting. Then why go to a meeting? Find a like minded group and have some coffee and actually have a discussion. I do not need to repeat third grade reading class. Also, I haven’t the need to hold hands and repeat ANY memorized wisdoms. I need AA but I don’t need the Kumbaya. OK. I’m done. Thank you for letting me share.

  19. Matthew R. says:

    I’m sure that many many many many many and then some AAs agree with you, but AA will never be reformed from within its own structures and current practices. Nor will anything that displaces them will be AA as we know it. AA, consisting of its deepest wisdom, wherever it exists, needs to be reimagined in ways that follow the original founding: Bob + Bill + one by one = an AA meeting. The only requirement for membership is a desire for membership.

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