Episode 6: How to Handle AA as a Secularist

In this episode John and Ben have a conversation about how to navigate Alcoholics Anonymous as a secular person. They briefly touch on what a person can expect to experience at their first AA meeting, and how to handle the overtly religious nature of most AA meetings.

Topics covered in this episode include:

Transcript

00:00 John: My Secular Sobriety is an addiction recovery podcast giving voice to the secular person in recovery.

[music]

00:20 John: Hello, I’m John and I’m a person in long-term recovery, and I’m here with my co-host Ben and good friend from Omaha. How you doing, Ben?

00:28 Ben: Pretty good, John, glad to be here.

00:31 John: Nice to see you again. This is gonna be an off-the-cuff podcast. I hope it turns out really well. What happened, we were originally gonna do an episode on the Sinclair Method, but our guest wasn’t able to make it so we thought that we would do it on a topic that Ben and I are somewhat familiar with, which is how to deal with AA as a secular person. I don’t know, Ben, I thought maybe a good place to start is, let’s start on the assumption that a person is listening who might have never been to an AA meeting before. They think they have a problem with alcohol and the only place they know of to find support is in AA. They don’t have LifeRing, they don’t have Smart, they have AA. So I guess we should prepare those people, let them know what they will find when they get there. Why don’t you start from your perspective and then I’ll follow up behind you.

01:33 Ben: Sure. Well, first I’d note that depending on where you go, it’s likely to be quite different depending on what meeting you walk into. I would say, around here, especially, they feel very… A lot of times they take place in a church basement, so I think for a secular person that right there can frame what they’re walking into, and I think that if they do meet in church basements they do tend to feel a little bit more like church, I think, as well. I think you can walk in and you can expect people to be very nice right off the bat, usually, a lot of people sticking their hand out and shake your hand, especially if they’ve never seen you before and obviously if it’s your first meeting walking in and you’re checking things out that’s gonna be the case. Very welcoming in general, that’s what I would say, and I would say after you’re there for a while and maybe if you introduce yourself, and if you’re talking to people, people are pretty accepting for a while, I think.

02:32 John: And you’re right, AA is unique among a lot of different organizations in that… What a lot of people don’t realize about AA who aren’t initiated into it or familiar with it, is that it really is a network of independent, autonomous groups and AA is… Your experience with AA is gonna depend upon what AA meeting you go to on what day, what time, what city, what state, what country. It’s really based upon how that particular group runs their meeting and the norms of that area. So here in the Midwest and probably this… Actually, probably most of North America, except for maybe a few places in the northeast part of the country, what you’re going to get at your first meeting, people will, like Ben said, will be very nice. They might give you what we call here a First Step meeting, which might make you feel uncomfortable; then again, it might make you feel, it might be good for you to hear, but basically what that involves is people will go around the room, they will tell their story of alcoholism and how they got into AA, in the hopes that you will identify with their stories and be attracted to what is being offered there.

04:02 John: The meeting will open with a prayer, which might make you uncomfortable if you have strong feelings about your secular world view. It’s generally around here opened with the serenity prayer, which is a prayer that was written, I don’t know, sometime ago, back in the ’30s, I guess, I don’t know, but it’s been kinda modified for AA. And then they’ll go around the room, and they’ll share, they’ll talk to you. After the meeting, and this is very common in North America, not so common in Europe, they will ask you to hold hands, join in a circle and recite the Lord’s Prayer and that might make you uncomfortable too, so that’s just to prepare you for it. So it kind of depends on what you can tolerate. Now, you don’t have to join in with the praying and so forth, you have complete freedom to do whatever you want in AA. A lot of people say, “Take what you can use and leave the rest.” Sometimes that’s easier said than done.

05:10 Ben: I would say, around here, too, I think meetings sometimes start with how it works, which is a chapter out of the book of Alcoholics Anonymous which definitely has some religious overtones to it, as well, so again that can be off-putting to somebody who maybe has a secular worldview. All of us are different, some of us are probably easier to, find it a little bit easier to put that by the wayside, but…

05:34 John: That’s right, it depends. If you… In my case, I didn’t grow up with going to church or anything, so my discomfort wasn’t so much as being uncomfortable with religion per se, but just immediately feeling like I didn’t have that in common with them because I didn’t have that experience. I don’t think I’d ever in my life joined hands with people and prayed before until I went to an AA meeting. Yeah, so that was… Yeah, it was kind of different for me, but I was able to tolerate it, I guess, because there weren’t any other options.

06:16 Ben: Yeah, I always find it interesting too. It’s usually people who maybe have mental health issues too, don’t often like to hold hands with people or touch each other. So it can be kind of hard to get out of that at the end of the meeting.

06:30 John: That’s true, and also healthcare professionals really understand that holding hands is a good way of spreading germs.

06:34 Ben: Yes, it sure is.

06:38 John: A nood friend of mine is a nurse and she just… She absolutely hates holding hands.

06:45 Ben: Yeah, for sure. I would say too, as I said, and you were talking in more detail about what to expect in the meeting, but the tone will be very friendly usually right at first, like we were saying, and if you stick to your secular ideas, or you don’t buy into everything necessarily there, you start sharing things that people aren’t on board with, people tolerate that for probably about one to three months and then after a while, you might get some people saying some things back to you. That’s been my experience.

07:13 John: And you don’t wanna judge the entire group by one or two people either, because you will have the occasional person pull you aside and say and tell you what they think you need to do, so they might be kind of condescending and tell you that eventually you’ll get it, you’ll find your higher power, they’ll make other suggestions and so forth. You don’t have to follow any suggestions at all and the person is probably really trying to be helpful but if you find them off-putting, it’s not fair to judge the entire group by that one person. In fact, you can, if you talk to someone about what that person told you, and you have some questions about it, there’s probably some other people in the group that will tell you, “Yeah, stay away from that person.”

07:57 Ben: For sure, yeah. And I would say don’t be afraid to voice your concerns to another person in the group that you trust just to kinda check out whether you’re jibing with it or whether you think it’s okay or not. Like John said, like you said, John, you’ll get some feedback sometimes to say, “Oh, yeah, everybody knows that guy’s a little bit off-kilter, pushes things on people a little too hard, don’t worry about it.” if you have an open mind too I think… Sometimes I would dig myself in when I was feeling especially secular. I think that if you have an open mind, you start to realize that most people are just doing it however they see fit to do or whatever is working for them, even though it doesn’t always sound that way when they share in a meeting.

08:38 John: That’s right, and it’s… The entire experience is one where over time, you learn more and more about… Well, you learn more about yourself, but you learn more about the culture of Alcoholics Anonymous, too, and you get better at navigating it and you definitely will learn… If you live in a large city, you’ll definitely learn that there are a lot of different meetings you can go to, and some meetings are very strict, and they have a certain way of doing things, and everybody is kind of on board with that and then you have other meetings that are really laid back, and it’s just do what you wanna do, I’m your friend, it’s just… It’s real simple and easy.

09:26 Ben: For sure. Some meetings have 100 or 150 people in them and they do feel like church or a big, huge presentation and other meetings might feel like small group therapy where it’s like 8 to 10 people, and it’s really laid back and casual.

09:39 John: That’s another good point too, you have different kinds of meetings formats. You have speaker meetings that are usually open and then you have discussion meetings which are usually closed. And the difference between an open and a closed meeting, is open meetings means that the public can show up, anybody can attend the meeting, and a closed meeting is only for people who wanna stop drinking, or think they have a problem with alcohol.

10:02 Ben: And even then, there’s not usually a lot of enforcement on that either, I don’t think.

10:05 John: That’s true, that’s true.

10:07 Ben: Depending on your group. I’ve had some groups, too. I know I accidentally attended a women’s meeting one time and I didn’t know it was a women’s meeting and they had a vote before the meeting to see whether I could stay or not.

10:16 John: I did the same thing, and they told me I could stay and but I said, “Oh, it’s okay, I’ll apologize to you.” Did you stay?

10:23 Ben: I did stay, I maybe shouldn’t have, but that’s a good… Most people seem to be glad that I stayed, I guess at least, but maybe… Maybe I just didn’t understand what was going on.

10:32 John: Yeah, so… Yeah, so you have those two different types of meetings. Speaker meetings are kinda nice, because all you have to do is sit there and listen, and then usually there’s kind of like some kind of socialization, after, socializing afterwards, but that’s in a nutshell, I guess, what you might expect to experience when you get to that first meeting. Now, Ben, you really pointed out the reading of how it works, which is really common, and it might be really weird to hear that for the first time. What he’s talking about is it’s from the book, Alcoholics Anonymous, which is what the program is named after, and it’s from a chapter in that book called How It Works, and it has this really heavy religious language, where there is one who has all power, that one is God, may you find him now. And what might be really strange for you, though, is some groups have got in the habit of speaking back to it; when the person is reading it they say things in response to it. Yeah, so I think there’s some weirdness, there’s no doubt about it.

11:39 John: But as Ben said, when you start it off, all of that stuff, it doesn’t represent the individual people, the individual people can be very nice, they’re people like anyone, anyone you might meet out in the street. And when you go out and have coffee with them, it’s… You’ll find that it’s just like pretty much anyone else that you might meet. And that, to me, I think, is the real strength of it is that personal connection that you have when you get away from all the other stuff, when you get away from the praying and the chanting and the old book and all that kind of stuff, it’s really the getting to know someone else who’s going through what you’re going through and has your best interest at heart, I think is what really is the power of it.

12:26 Ben: I think you’re right, too. And in general, I think it’s true. You’ll hear in meetings where people will say none of us want anybody else here to go out and get drunk. And I do think that’s generally true. Maybe after I’ve been there five years there was a few people I didn’t care for very well that I wished would, but that’s when I’m at my worst probably, but truly, everybody does just want what’s best for everybody there, but it usually revolves around not drinking, for sure, right?

12:52 John: Yeah, and you can call people too, you might have some people give you their phone numbers and that’s intended so that if you are thinking about drinking and having a hard time, you can call someone and…

13:06 Ben: Some meetings will hand you a list of people’s numbers, too, at the beginning.

13:09 John: Yeah, yeah. So that’s basically in a nutshell what you can expect. But after you’ve been going to meetings for a while, and let’s say that you identify as either an atheist or agnostic and you’re beginning to meet people, you see these 12 steps and there’s a lot of stuff about God on there. How do you navigate all of that? What would you say about that, Ben?

13:34 Ben: Well, what I did versus what I would say now. I don’t know, I would say, you and I have talked about this and I do feel it’s true, but I only feel it was true for me. I felt like after I stayed in meetings for a while and I started to absorb what was being said, I didn’t ever… I mean, there were times I did sit down and work on the steps like I’m going to do this in a structured way, but I almost felt like the way the steps were listed started happening to me, I started thinking more about different things and more deeply about my issues. But a way to navigate that, is there can be some really, really heavy God language. And I don’t know about you, John, the thing that bothers me about it is not when somebody says, “This is my feeling about my higher power and how my program works,” it’s more when people use the “you” word and how you should do things and how we do things. Yes, so I don’t know, I always, I always recommend if somebody is… Had asked me to be a sponsor in the past, and they’re at meetings, I would always encourage them to talk in the I language and I’ve since heard other people say that they don’t like that either, but I think that’s always healthy. My background in counseling says too, if I just say I feel this way about something, it’s not me judging what somebody else should or shouldn’t be doing, I just say, “This is how it works for me or this has been my experience so far.”

14:53 John: I agree. And if you hear people that talk in the we and in their we they’re including you, you don’t have to be a part of that either. Just say, that’s that person’s idea of what we is.

15:07 Ben: I am much more tolerant of we than I am of you.

15:09 John: Yeah, yeah, yeah.

15:11 Ben: And I know people mean the generic you, but it’s like… Some of my beefs with some things in Alcoholics Anonymous are that language is indicative of trying to press upon somebody else what they need to do rather than in an intent to me to avoid digging in and doing the work that the person maybe truly needs to do, ’cause it’s about us resolving our feelings, not trying to make sure everybody has the same feelings we have.

15:38 John: Yeah, so after you’ve been going to meetings for a while, now, let’s say that you’ve been going to meetings, I would recommend that, if you’re gonna try AA, that you go to meetings on a pretty regular basis. I’d also recommend that you try a number of different groups and different meeting times to find a place where you’re most comfortable. And then after you’ve been doing that, let’s say, for about three or four months, then you might wanna make a decision if you really want to go forward with working the suggested program, which is absolutely not required. And if you wanted to do that, I would take it very easy.

16:20 John: Those 12 steps, they’re written in a kind of an odd language because they were written so long ago and they were written by people who had a religious background, or a religious, they found sobriety, through a religious experience, so that’s why they’re written that way. But when you look underneath all of the religious language what’s basically going on there, it’s just an explanation of an experience that you might be able to relate to, you might have had that experience where you really felt like you hit bottom, that you were desperate, you needed help, you couldn’t do this on your own, you came to think that maybe there’s something that can help me make a decision to change. These are essentially what’s involved with that and they aren’t necessarily things that you have to do, they’re basically things that you’ve experienced.

17:12 John: The things that you actually do in AA, there’s some… When it comes to the steps, there is some self-examination, I guess some self-reflection, trying to learn about yourself, how you react to different things in life. And it’s based upon looking back at your past, I guess, and how you reacted to different situations and without really… The intent is not to take, it’s not to beat yourself up but to try to understand if there’s anything that you can change or learn from that, I guess, so that you can make life a little bit easier as a sober person.

17:55 Ben: One thing I can really get behind in AA is the way they do break down your resentments and how they result in you finding something out about yourself. ‘Cause if we do look at what’s bothering us and why, we can find out the part of us that’s being triggered or the problem in us at that is there. I do think AA does spell that out pretty well in the book.

18:16 John: You know, I did my halo again, it looks like…

18:18 Ben: It’s a divine light coming in there.

18:22 John: I was actually gonna try to cover up my window, ’cause I knew this was gonna happen, and I broke… My wife is gonna kill me, I broke the thing that… I broke something.

18:33 Ben: Uh-oh. Those are never as cheap to fix as we’d like to think either. So yeah, it’s a… I’m definitely probably going to get in some bashing in this podcast about AA, but that is one of the things I’ve always felt was pretty good about… ‘Cause it almost tricks you, ’cause when you get in lots of times you don’t have as much insight into things as you can to be able to take a really hard book. Even if somebody went to therapy, it’s hard to dig in that hard right away. So I think the subtle way it has you look at, “Hey, what’s bothering you?” Even the slogans and things you hear right at first are really helpful to just kind of quiet down the inner turmoil a little bit and get you to focus on yourself and not be so mad at everything around you.

19:15 John: And you know what’s interesting, if you look at other programs, like for example, Refuge Recovery, for example, there’s a lot of what they call inventory in Refuge Recovery. It’s a lot of understanding how you react to different situations and so forth, understanding that and learning about it. I don’t think that Smart Recovery is so much like that. Smart Recovery isn’t so concerned about the past or learning from the past, but they do pay attention to your present reaction. It’s real similar, it’s still a matter of trying to understand yourself and how you operate.

19:57 Ben: Right. I would argue too, though, and we talked about this in another podcast and I didn’t bring it up, the ABCS that are part of Smart Recovery, where you look at the activating event, the belief about the event, the consequence of that belief, that is going backwards a little bit, because you can look at that event that just happened and why do you feel this way, and then you can kinda see that pattern about, “Oh, I tend to get mad about this certain situation in all instances in my life,” so, so I think it does, it does eventually work back on some reflection, and like you and I have talked about, I think that naturally occurs.

20:30 John: It does, doesn’t it?

20:32 Ben: When you start having a more considered life, where you examine things…

20:37 John: Absolutely, it absolutely there’s no way around it, I don’t think, if you have a problem with addiction of any kind and you stop using, you’re gonna look back at your time using and you’re gonna see that there were a lot of people that you impacted from your behavior and you’re gonna have problems in your life that is associated to your addiction, so it’s just… You can’t help but think back. And so if you’re gonna do that, you may as well find a way to do that in sort of a kind, gentle way, so that you’re not living in shame and self-hatred, but rather that you learn from it, relate that with other people who’ve experienced that, recognize your humanity and then move forward with more positive ways and hopefully mend some of those relationships.

21:29 Ben: I will say too, people will probably, if you’re listening to this podcast, if you’re considering going to an AA meeting, you might be at a different level of addiction than somebody else, like you might be coming in just like, “Oh, gosh, I’ve got an issue I maybe need to take a look at, I need to go hear some things to make sure I don’t have a problem or do have a problem.” Or you could be somebody who’s in full-blown physical dependence where it’s hard to even hold yourself together to get to a meeting. So the different kinds of needs you may have when you first come to a meeting, somebody who might be barely able to hold it together and fighting off DTs, it might not be as good for that person to speak in a meeting earlier, because you’re just more likely to be volatile and stuff like that. Now, that being said, I’m in favor of anybody speaking in a meeting who feels like they need to, but some people might wanna sit back a little bit more and check things out and other people might wanna just start introducing themselves and talking a lot right away.

22:25 John: That’s right, yeah. I took it pretty easy. I just… I’m kind of an introvert, believe it or not, I’m an introvert and I don’t know, I was just in a place in my life where I just didn’t really feel like saying a whole lot, and so basically what I would do, I’d go to the meetings and I would leave just as soon as I could after the meeting. It took me a little while to kind of warm up to people and get to know people and so forth. Now, after I did, the real benefit I got from that was the relationships that I created outside of the meeting times. So when I started going out to lunch with people or going to movies with people and things like that, I was pretty young so that was really helpful for me to have people that were my age that were staying sober.

23:12 Ben: And some of the stuff that goes on, also there are young people’s meetings for people who might be younger out there that tend to… That can be good. Some of those meetings. Would annoy the heck out of me when I was younger too. It felt like people didn’t take things too seriously, but I think again, like you just said, John, that triggered me to say, it. That community is huge, I think, especially when you’re young, you feel like you’re a loser, if you can’t drink anymore like, who the heck ever wants to hang out with you and now you’re boring and you have no life. And I really think that’s where young people say AA can be great for somebody who’s younger, like that.

23:46 John: It’s funny, so I got sober when I was 25, and so here I am in my mid to late 20s and I didn’t think that I was a young person, and looking back on it at the age of 57, it’s like, yeah, I was pretty young, I probably qualified for the young people’s meeting.

24:04 Ben: Oh, yeah, I’d say around here young people’s meetings, people are probably 35, 40 and under. And then there’s lots of good things about AA and there’s lots of things to be concerned about, but I think just stay out of the all-or-nothing thinking about it’s either perfect or awful. If you’re finding that you’re liking what you’re hearing on some level.

24:26 John: If you’re lucky enough, if you live in one of the cities that has a secular-ly formatted meeting that’s available too, that’s a really nice option. They have these secular AA meetings, and we were talking about young people’s meetings, women’s meetings, there’s also LGBTQ meetings and there’s what we call secular AA meetings. And a secular meeting is basically for people like us who have a secular worldview, and it’s very nice because there aren’t any opening and closing prayers, they generally stay away from the old literature. You just don’t have that kind of pressure to conform to someone else’s belief system as you do just naturally in a regular AA meeting. So if you’re fortunate enough to have those, there’s about 500 of those meetings around the world, so it’s a very small fraction of the total number of AA meetings. But if you’re lucky enough to have one, that’s actually a really nice option. And I think what you’ll find from that is that you’ll get the benefit of having like-minded people who support you in your sobriety. The nice thing about AA is that if you have a nice group, it’s a very casual, almost fun interaction with other people, it’s very laid back, it’s not real structured so much.

25:50 John: So in that respect, it’s nice. There’s nobody teaching you, there shouldn’t be, anyway, at most meetings. So the secular option is really nice if you’ve got that. You can go to this website, secularaa.org, and they have meetings listed there. You can also just call the AA area where you live and ask if there’s a secular meeting in their city. More and more AA communities are recognizing the secular meetings.

26:17 Ben: It’s nice to have people that you look forward to seeing and going out to lunch with and things like that. And I’ll say I think from a male perspective, men aren’t as likely to ask other men to go out to lunch or to go to a movie, or just to hang out on their own outside of a meeting without the structure of the meeting, as women, I think. So I think for men the meeting structure is good because, I don’t know, even when I drank it’s like guys had to have an excuse to go out to lunch or… You go out, end up in a strip club, or you go out and you play golf and you get drunk or you go here and you do this. It could never be that two men just wanted to hang out and talk to each other. It wasn’t as easy to do that. So I think the format of just having this meeting to go to allows men to be around other men without… I guess we had another excuse to be around each other, it’s an AA meeting, but for some reason, I don’t know if it’s homophobia, or what, we’re just scared to connect with each other without some excuse on the other end of it.

27:17 John: By the way, if there is anyone listening and there might be two people on YouTube that are listening, you can call 844-899-8278. If you have a question or a comment, go ahead and call. That’s 844-899-8278. And that number is also on the YouTube page where we’re streaming. So anyway, feel free to call in. So yeah, so if you can deal with… I think that it’s just a matter of being strong in your own belief system and not feeling like… Don’t feel any pressure to conform. The one or two people who talk to you doesn’t represent the whole. Those steps, you can take them or leave them. I would go into them kind of with some caution unless you have someone who also has a secular worldview with you, and maybe you learn a little bit about them, and I think what you’ll find out, like Ben and I just said, is a lot of them you’re almost actually doing anyway.

28:26 John: They’re nice principles… I guess the strength of the steps is… If there’s any structure in AA, that might be it, because it gives you a frame of reference or talking points, if you will, and that can be problematic, but it also gives you some sort of a common language. There is some strange stuff in AA, you might read about it being a cult, and it is kind of cultish in some ways, in some groups more than others, because… But I don’t really say it’s a… I think it’s more of a culture, it’s a sub-culture and they have their own way of, their own language, their own, you know what I’m saying?

29:10 Ben: I am apt to think, I never would say AA is a cult, but I do think there are very cult-like tendencies in AA at times, and you’ll get… If you’re honest and assertive about what you believe. I have counseling training, I’ve been pretty careful when I’m assertive about what I share in a meeting that I’m making sure that it’s just me stating my opinion and not trying to press it upon anyone else, and I will thoroughly explain that before I share sometimes, but still, I’ll get some pushback and I’ll get some people talking to me after the meeting and I’ll get people saying, that I’m gonna get people killed by saying stuff sometimes.

29:46 John: Oh, yeah. And to be honest, there are some groups, if you run into it, that are cults. I mean, there’s no doubt about it, there’s a… We could do a whole show on AA cults, but there’s the Clancy cult, okay. So what this is, there’s this guy in California by the name of Clancy I and he is a personality, he’s got a charismatic personality, he’s been around for a long time, and he’s got a real rigid, dogmatic approach to recovery that demands that you have a sponsor and that you do what that sponsor says. Anyway, these groups are really weird in that they have this heavy hardcore sponsorship thing going on and they also have a dress code, which is really bizarre, so it’s just kind of strange. So, yeah, if you go to that group, I would say go, leave, but I’ve known people have gone to them and seem to like them, but I don’t know, if you’re an atheist or agnostic, I think you would have really hard time with a group like that.

30:56 Ben: Yeah, I think so too. And those people tend to be able to trace their sponsorship tree back to Clancy or…

31:03 John: It’s almost, not to knock religion but it’s almost like Mormonism in a way. ‘Cause in Mormonism, you have like these ancestors that are like really… What you would try to do, you try to save your ancestors, I think, so that you can go to heaven with them. That’s the Mormon thing. I don’t know a lot about it, but that’s why they have the ancestor thing in Mormonism, and these strange AA groups that do the sponsorship thing, I don’t know why they do it, they try to connect it back to this Clancy guy, I think.

31:30 Ben: I suppose it’s a validation thing, and I suppose some people would argue it gives you a sense of membership and you’re less likely to leave and you’re more likely to stay sober. I’d be more likely to go crazy, I think, so.

31:43 John: Yeah, so they do have cultish groups like that. So basically if you ever have anybody tell you that you gotta do something, I would stay away from them. And then there’s some more dangerous cults too. There’s more dangerous stuff like, oh, gosh, sexually…

31:58 Ben: The stepping…

32:00 John: Yeah, and this is, it happens, it’s not, I don’t think it’s the predominant vibe that happens in AA, but it’s something to be aware of.

32:09 Ben: There are self-appointed deacons of AA kind of too. You know, my old home group that I went to, and I liked this gentleman for the first few years I went there and then I think I kind of started to get a little more sane. And man, he would open the meeting, every meeting, and it wasn’t a rule or the way the meeting always worked, it just always happened that way. He would always start the meeting after whoever started the topic and he would speak for 15-20 minutes and anybody who had been there longer than two years would just roll their eyes and be like, “Oh, my gosh, the gospel according to Rick,” and it was a very dogmatic and he was maybe what the book would call a classic alcoholic. He was just very arrogant, very self-absorbed and was not aware of how he was coming across to most people, and it was a big turn-off for a lot of people, like I said, who had been around for a couple of years. You would find people drift away from that meeting. But on the other side of that, I think a lot of newcomers appreciate that structure and that I suppose charismatic leadership that he brought to that group, too. But yeah, it was definitely very, very off-putting after the first few years.

33:22 John: So speaking from my own experience, and I’m breaking anonymity and I’m okay with that nowadays, but I did get to the point where I really can’t deal with the meetings, quite frankly. I can only handle a secular meeting. But I think for me it’s that way because I had spent a lot of time in AA conforming, and I had the experience of going from conforming to not conforming and it was a difficult break, and it was almost… The experience was such that it’s hard for me to go back and be around the stuff that I used to conform to. Does that make sense?

34:18 Ben: It absolutely does, John. I think there is maybe a certain personality type or certain people who… Maybe the issues that we’ve had, ’cause that’s been my experience too, what I needed to do from a psychological standpoint was gain my own voice and have confidence in my own voice and my own beliefs, ’cause I had played the chameleon most of my life, and I think some of my drinking was to remove that, I think, and own my own voice because I couldn’t do it sober, so then I would drink and I mean this is all subconscious stuff. I would drink and it would allow me to voice my own concerns, but obviously when you’re drunk, you don’t do that in a very proper way. But then I think my early involvement in AA, it was a lot of conforming and it was probably… Being physically sober was good for me, but for a while it was a furthering of me just conforming and denying my own my own journey and taking on somebody else’s journey and what I thought it was supposed to be, instead of digging in and finding what worked for me.

35:23 Ben: And I think it finally called to me a little bit later. Sorry, that sounds too spiritual mumbo jumbo-y, but I think it’s like a sliver that festers and it just begs to come to the surface. And I think once I was sober, there was no denying that. So, I think first, for me, when I started going to the, realizing there were secular meetings that allowed me that voice, that freedom to be able to share what I’d been feeling for a long time. And I think getting more assertive and owning what I believed and not trying to change somebody else’s belief was where my true growth needed to go, and I felt like the longer I was in traditional AA, the more that was being beat down and the more I was fighting against it, and so my ongoing growth has been one of growing away from AA on some level. Not that I couldn’t go to a meeting today and probably find plenty that I agreed with, but it’s almost like I can agree with the way something or what something is saying, but the way it is said is so off-putting to me that it’s hard for me to find anything that I agree with in a meeting, and not just to be disagreeable, but just more the way in which it goes on.

36:35 John: And it makes sense. I’ve been taking that LifeRing, not LifeRing, but Smart Training, and I learned a little bit about the stages of change, and in Smart, I don’t know if it’s for the official stage of change, but one of the stages of change is the exit, so that you’ve successfully achieved the change, so that means you don’t have to go on for ever trying to change. I guess you’d want to just maintain your good habits, or whatever. But yeah, I think that’s part of the change, you can grow out of it.

37:10 Ben: Well, that would be another argument I have against AA on some level too. It sets it up so that you’re so scared that if you were to leave, that it means you will drink even if you’re a person that’s committed to not drinking, because that’s me. I’m not necessarily committed to AA anymore on any level, but I am committed to knowing that I’m a person that is much better off if I don’t even drink.

37:31 John: Now, if you’re a secular person, and you’re going to AA and you don’t have any secular AA meetings or any other secular option, and you do have some problems with it, and maybe people are giving you a hard time, there’s another resource and that’s connecting with people online, other secular people online. And you can go on Facebook and look up these private groups for secular people in AA. AA Beyond Belief is a site, AA Agnostica. These are sites that you can go to and connect with people who will understand you support you. There’s even online secular AA meetings that you might like. I’m not, I don’t like the online meetings for whatever reason, I just don’t like them, but they’re not bad and it might be something that other people like. I don’t know what I have against them, I just for whatever reason, they’re just kind of not my thing.

38:28 Ben: It’s great for people who don’t have access to anything to be able to at least have that option, but I do think it’s important, the face-to-face get-togethers and being in the same room with each other, does something different, I think. Even in counseling and therapy right now that’s a new trend of online therapy and things like that. And you’re gonna miss that aspect of it too.

38:51 John: Yeah, absolutely.

38:52 Ben: Better than nothing, though, I think.

38:54 John: Better than nothing, absolutely, yeah. So yeah, that online component is really nice, because that way it gives you some strength. I think it’s probably easier to deal with when you know that you’re not alone, it’s easier to… I think the whole key is what you were saying, Ben, is being true to yourself and your own values and not trying to conform to someone else’s. If you can do that, then you’re very healthy, and you’re gonna be fine. It’s when you compromise your own values that damage is done. And that kind of damage was done to me. So if you… And it makes it easier knowing that there are people out there that do share your values and that your values are good ones that…

39:36 Ben: I think too, when there’s other healthy people around you, they can reflect that back to you and you feel accepted for who you are. It’s not that you’re set in your own ways and you’re good with it so you don’t need anyone, it’s that you can feel accepted by other people, even if they’re not just like you. I mean, you think about the political climate right now, not to get into the politics of it, but it’s like just it seems like there’s less of that in the world as it is, if I believe differently than you politically it’s almost like we have to just axe people from our lives.

40:09 John: It’s an extreme. We live in a society of extremes anymore. It’s either, so…

40:14 Ben: So finding good recovery meetings. People tend to accept each other for their differences as well is what I’m saying.

40:19 John: Yeah, so we’ve gone 40 minutes, which is probably about as long as we normally go. I hope that this was useful. We could have other discussions. There are things that we can explore here, but I think the bottom line is if you are a secular person, and you go to AA, be true to your own values, go to other meetings, meet other people, just don’t feel like you have to conform to what anybody says you need to do. Do what is helpful for you and find the people that you can relate to, that you can invite into your circle of friends, and I think that you’ll be okay. Avoid the people who are obviously cultish and the sexual people. People that want to come on to you, I guess.

41:11 Ben: I think too a good recovery community can be a way of separating yourself from the old life you had too, where you feel like people aren’t supporting your new changes that you maybe wanna make by not drinking too. Especially while you’re transitioning to feeling comfortable with that, you might be able to return back to those friends as well, but you might find that those friendships weren’t based on great things either. So there’s a lot to sort out when we get sober.

41:36 John: There is. So, I hope this was helpful to you. If not, we’ll try it another time, but this was kind of, just kind of off-the-cuff. So I’m gonna sing us out with our little jingle.

41:49 Ben: Oh, I thought you were gonna actually sing.

41:53 John: You wouldn’t like that. So anyway, thanks for listening to My Secular Sobriety. It’s been nice talking with you, Ben, we’ll be back.

42:00 Ben: Nice talking to you, John.

42:01 John: I did invite… I did reach out to some people for a potential guest. There’s a woman by the name of Katie who is pretty big on YouTube with the Sinclair method. I sent her an email, and I hope that she responds. I also reached out to Secular Organizations for Sobriety. I did not hear back from them. I kinda wonder if they even exist anymore. And I also reached out to our friend from LifeRing, and I told him, “Hey, if you know of any people in LifeRing that wanna come on and share their stories,” and he said that he would get some people. So there’s some possibilities for us down the road there.

42:34 Ben: It’d be interesting to hear somebody tell their story from a secular perspective without having it framed in the AA language.

42:41 John: Yes, it would be. It would be. I’d love to hear someone from LifeRing or Smart just share their recovery story, tell their recovery story, share it. Alright, thanks again, everybody.


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