Welcome to Rebellion Dogs Publishing: March 4th, 2015.
Diversity in A.A. - sometimes we're ahead of the curve and sometimes we fall behind. This month's podcast does the numbers on a topic that AA's General Service Conference is grappling with, inclusion, rights and our duty to accommodate.
We look at AA's history with women, the LGBTQ community, people with special needs and visible minorities. An excerpt from Barry L's 1985 talk in Montreal looks at the history of Tradition Three and the tension over Gay and Lesbian affirmative groups in the 1970s. GET IT ALL HERE.
Good reading awaits. Thomas B shares about his experience with sponsorship. This is one of AAs tenets that some blindly adhere to and others dismiss in a knee-jerk way. Thomas has a mindful look at how we relate to each other in AA in the February 22 AAagnostica. Also, to calm the restless beast within, another refreshing read at AAagnostica about what connects us all in AA, not about our differences: HERE for AAagnostica. Bill White has some nice things to about the growing addiction/recovery advocacy in Canada in his February 21st blog.
We talk a lot about what reading but here's the Top 10 of what visitors have listened to January 2015:You can expect another dozen Rebellion Dogs Radio shows in 2015. What would you like to hear about? Our general editorial slant is “less dogma, more bite.” We’d love to know what you want to hear about. Post or email @ email@example.com
On the 20th of January I learned that Ernie Kurtz, PhD died. I don't mind telling you that Tuesday was not a very productive day for me. Ernie Kurtz was someone I knew from his body of work, Not God: A History of Alcoholics Anonymous (1979), The Spirituality of Imperfection (1997), Shame and Guilt (2007). Most recently we now enjoy the follow up book co-authored with Katherine Ketcham, Experiencing Spirituality. Dr. Kurtz was a hero of mine. He is one of these people who makes me want to be better man. He was dealing with pancreatic cancer. While is hospice, he wasn't going quietly; at the time of his death, Ernie was generously editing a Foreword for our friend Bob K's book.
Ernie Kurtz, wrote the Foreword to Beyond Belief: Agnostic Musings for 12 Step Life (Second Printing). The way this came about is that he had the book, he sent me a review by email. I had never met Dr. Kurtz. I only knew him by reputation. He and I ended up talking and he told me that he hoped I could make some use out of his review. I asked him if I could use it as a Foreword. He said, "Sure; the only request would be that you don't edit it - copy it word for word." If you own a first printing Beyond Belief, you own the one Ernie Kurtz owned - one of one thousand. All current copies of the eBook or paperback will include Dr. Kurtz's Foreword.
Now out, the legacy of Ernie Kurtz (September 9, 1935 - January 19, 2015) as told by Bill White. Also, here Ernie from 2013 talking about history. Page 124 Productions
"There is a need to periodically examine what we think we know. In general, for most of us human beings we think we know more than we actually know. I find it useful to periodically pick up something I know and look at it again. There is always a different perspective that can be brought to some particular question. If you have a particular hobby horse and you're frustrated because somebody else already looked it up, don't let that intimidate you.
AA is not New York, AA is not General Service, AA is not Not-God, AA is in the groups. What we really don't have, what I really miss, what I would really be going around preaching about if I was able to, let's have more group histories." Ernest Kurtz, PhD, 2013
The latest: A blog about pluralism - the liberal way to respecting each other or a liberal myth? Read it HERE. I draw on a couple of inspiring recent reads. Gretta has two books; check out With or Without God and Amen. Who wouldn't want to hear what an atheist minister has to say. Also, Phil Zuckerman's Living the Secular Life is worth a look.
This just in: BEYOND BELIEF in Sedona Arizona for a desert weekend in September 2015. The palace is SedonaMago retreat, the food is healthy the view is stunning the topic is groundbreaking. "An atheist and a priest go on a 12-Step call together..." That's the theme.
John McAndrew MDiv, and Beyond Belief author Joe C. will lead a discussion about AA - without conversion intended for anyone - with an atheist and counselor/ex-priest talking about Big-book (12-Step) language, then and now. DETAILS, DETAILS, DETAILS.
In May, Rebellion Dogs is in New York City for BOOK EXPO AMERICA. Something is in the works for Chicago, too. News
Ding, ding, ding. We will hit 3,000 copies sold of Beyond Belief by March 1st. Here is some recent praise:
Heads Above Other Daily Reflection Collections! 5 out of 5 stars. This is far and wide the very best collection of daily readings for 12-Steppers. Drawing on the wisdom of ages and reflecting upon its application to our daily lives in recovery, it is at times provocative, but always evocative of our inner truth. I highly recommend it for anyone tired of the magical thinking of religions and many self-help movements. J.B. Aurora CO, February 20, 2015
I'm so happy to have this book - I no longer have to start my day by wanting to chuck my copy of Daily Reflections against the wall! If you are an atheist or agnostic in recovery, do yourself a favor and get a copy of this.
"A much needed resource for those wrestling with anything, not just addictins. Joe C. inspires, engages, uplifts, and challenges readers through a year of reflections and insight into addiction and human nature." Gretta Vosper, minister/author/atheist, Good Reads, January 19, 2015
"It is this universality that makes Joe C.'s book capable of changing so many lives. Using frank prose that speaks to the reader in a language unfettered by references to deities and simply taps into that spark in everyone that wants to be better, Beyond Belief is the perfect daily companion. Although written primarily for addicts looking for secular means to break their negative habits, Beyond Belief can easily reach out and become a challenging guide for people looking for ways to cope with a troubled life and those who wish to contemplate life a day at a time." 5 out of 5 stars from Eduardo Aduna for Readers' Favorite
"Thanks so much for Beyond Belief! I am using it daily as part of my recovery support system and am appreciating the diversity of quotations and the comments on those quotations. I especially like the questions at the end which take me further into the material and inform my quiet times. Thanks for making the huge effort to put all that together. I really appreciate it." Kind regards, Pat H, United Kingdom
5 out of 5 stars MY BOYFRIEND IS LIKE A MEDITATION GURU AND HAD NEVER HEARD OF THIS, January 19, 2015 By J.F.: THIS BOOK IS SIIIIICK. WE GET SO SPIRITUAL IN THE MORNING. MY BOYFRIEND LOVED ME EVEN MORE NOW THAT I INTRODUCED HIM TO SUCH MAGNIFICENT READING MATERIAL.
5 out of 5 stars Five Stars, December 25, 2014 By PuckCrazy: I'm really enjoying this book. It speaks to me and my way of thinking.
5 out of 5 stars Five Stars, December 12, 2014 By L., FL, USA: Finally a book for us-- love it
4.0 out of 5 stars Four Stars, September 28, 2014 By M. M. (Lexington, KY): A nice alternative.
5 out of 5 stars: "Sometimes, the daily meditation books used in 12-step recovery programs seem a little too trite. This one, written for atheist and agnostics in the Fellowship, is a breath of fresh air. There is not a lot of bashing the God-talk; 'Live and Let Live' is applied, along with the fact that squabbling within the Fellowship compromises its primary mission. I recommend this highly for those in the atheist/agnostic camp or those looking for a change of scene. However, the selections are a bit too long for reading in meetings." JB, St. Louis MO
5 out of 5 stars: "Amazing, the index makes this deserve 10 stars! Wow buy a couple copies because you will want everyone in recovery to have this!" HB, Bashtop TX
"The author garners quotes from a wide range of writers and thinkers i.e. Socrates, Bertrand Russell, Scott Peck, Oprah Winfrey and Bill W. The author is clearly widely read, an autodidact and scholar of life, who asks probing and challenging questions as to what the reader is doing, thinking or practicing in their life. I have recommended Beyond Belief to clients who are attempting to lead a sober life as well as those who face the challenges of 'life'." Wray Pascoe, Ph.D., Family Therapist Clinical Fellow AAMFT
Thanks everyone who might be thinking about giving the gift of blaspheme for the holidays (Beyond Belief or other secular looks at 12 Step life). E-books make a save-the-day choice for last minute shoppers. Check our bookstore page for our favorites.
REBELLION DOGS Says, "Who wouldn't want a gift card?" You can now buy an Amazon Gift Card for yourself or others - it's like the gift of knowledge.
In December 2009 Joe C had an article published in AA's Grapevine called Overhaul? Is our 20th century literature up for the task of aiding the 21st century newcomer? Hear it here. overhaul? AA Grapevine More interestingly, hear the feed back here. Grapevine Reader Replies
Beyond Belief is continues to find its way to 100 more bedside tables, breakfast nooks and mobile devices each month. Thank-you from Rebellion Dogs. Check our Bookstore page for special. Homegroups: buy six, we will discount the book and cover shipping. Buy the eBook and paperback together for $20. Check for other specials.
Rebellion Dogs Radio Don't want to read the blogs? Click on the podcast button and listen on your computer, smartphone or any mobile device. We look at all kinds of issues in addiction and recovery - now with more bite and less dogma. Get Rebellion Dogs Radio theme music or browse other songs by The Chronicles HERE
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Two books that belong together. If you visit or live in Toronto, North America's largest mental health book store is Caversham Booksellers at 98 Harbord, steps west of Spadina. You can find (and buy) Beyond Belief and The Little Book: A Collection of Alternative 12 Steps or anything you are looking for in addiction/recovery, psychotherapy, philosophy, science and religion. I find it hard to leave there empty handed. Drop in say "Hi," if you find yourself near Bloor and Spadina in Toronto, Canada.
Roger C's new book called, The Little Book: A Collection of Alternative 12 Steps is something I am quite excited about it. It is the ultimate mate to Beyond Belief; one is a daily reflection book and the other is a freethinker's workbook for the Twelve Steps. You can order it from our Beyond Belief page.
News and Blogs from Rebellion Dogs
From "A Newcomer Asks..." AA pamphlet p-24 Q: “There is a lot of talk about God, though, isn't there?”
A: The majority of A.A. members believe that we have found the solution to our drinking problem not through individual willpower, but through a power greater than ourselves. However, everyone defines this power as he or she wishes. Many people call it God, others think it is the A.A. group, still others don't believe in it at all. There is room in A.A. for people of all shades of belief and non-belief. Twelve Steps and Twelve Traditions, William G. Wilson, page 27 “You can, if you wish, make A.A. itself your 'higher power.' Here's a very large group who have solved their alcohol problem. In this respect they are certainly a power greater than you, who have not even come close to a solution. Surely you can have faith in them. Even this minimum of faith will be enough.”
Check our links for great Freethinking places to go. The recovery community consists of 20 million addicts who have turned the corner on addiction to booze, drugs, sexual and romantic obsession, online-gaming, food, gambling, workaholism and more.
Beyond Belief: Agnostic Musings for 12 Step Life Finally a daily reflection book for nonbelievers, freethinkers and everyone.
Joe C presents on changing demographics in North America (creed, race, language, worldview) and the evolution of the 12-Step language from 1939 AA to ACA, to Coda to 21st century fellowships like On-line Gamers Anonymous and Teen Addictions Anonymous. Expect a 30 minutes presentation and then Q & A and discussion.
BEYOND BELIEF: An atheist and a theologian go on a 12-Step call...
Beyond Belief author, Joe C. and bereavement counselor, John McAndrew, MDiv, former priest, Betty Ford-Hazelden Spiritual Care Director moderate a weekend discussion about 12-Step recovery from different worldviews. This isn't an atheism vs. theism debate; it's a celebration of the tapestry of recovery that honors a range of worldviews.
All inclusive: $389 shared room, $489 private room
As A.A. readies for its annual business meeting (for Canada & USA) in April, I just came back from C.E.R.A.A.S.A., the Canadian Eastern Regional A.A. Service Assembly which was held outside of Toronto – Mississauga February 20th to 22nd. There are ten districts from the Ontario/Manitoba border east to the Atlantic Ocean. GSRs, delegates and any member who wants to buy a ticket can come have their say as the ten delegates get a feel for the room, or hear from members as we discuss the agenda items for the General Service Conference in April 2015.
I had the most bizarre experience at a panel called, "Diversity in A.A. - Our Heritage of Inclusion." You'll hear all about it on the latest Rebellion Dogs Radio. Some AA stewards suffer from the misapprehension that group and member rights are granted by the authority of GSO (or Intergroup) and are therefor, conditional. On the contrary; rights are inalienable - they can't be surrendered nor can they be revoked. Rights are inherent, or as the superstitious expression goes, 'granted under god.'
Love and tolerance for others is our code but I just heard from an AA delegate (talking about diversity) who thought that stewardship is rule-enforcement. Why does our Service Manual describe our duty in the terms of servitude? I guess any of us can get drunk on dogma or trip out on authority; we're only human. The question is this: Are we praising our own inclusiveness on one hand and systemically discriminating against minorities on the other hand. Repeat after me, GSO, "Denial isn't a river in Egypt."
Admitting there's a problem is the first step. This isn't going to be an all critical rant. We hear from Barry L who talked at the 1985 AA World Convention in Montreal about AA's overcoming their personal value system to do what's best for AA as a whole and agree to list gay and lesbian affirmative groups. We look at the Big Book's second edition affirmative action and how it advanced the interests of women in AA, acting as an early adapter to the women's liberation movement. So we look at race, creed, age, gender and physical/mental accessibility needs as we say, "Never mind what kind of a job we think we're doing with minorities in AA, what do our cold, hard statistics tell us about how well we're doing?"
I want to read it - not hear it. View or download the transcript HERE. Visit us on POD-0-MATIC
If AA is so inclusive, why do our demographics not reflect in the rooms, the same demographics of the towns and cities just outside our rooms. We look at NEXT AMERICA, a report by Pew Research and compare that report to the AA triennial survey and we contemplate why AA looks like 1960 American - not Century 21 America. Did I mention the Human Rights Code? In Ontario, where discrimination in AA is currently being tolerated, the Human Rights Commission has something to say about A.A.’s responsibility to advocate for minorities.
On their website you and I can read:“Organizations must ensure that they are not unconsciously engaging in systemic discrimination. This takes vigilance and a willingness to monitor and review numerical data, policies, practices and decision-making processes and organizational culture. It is not acceptable from a human rights perspective for an organization to choose to remain unaware of systemic discrimination or to fail to act when a problem comes to its attention.”
A transcript of the whole radio show is available HERE
January 2015 - Pluralism: The language barrier to getting along Worldviews that divide us in politics, religion and recover & the hope for reconciliation.
#JeSuisCharlie is the hash tag that tells the world that you condemn violence in the name of creed; Vive la freedom of the press! An antagonistic French atheist newspaper was terrorized by angry Muslims in retaliation for insensitive depictions of Islamic religious symbols. Let’s not forget that most Muslims condemn violence, too, but they’re hardly pro-blasphemy either. How does one avoid knee-jerk reactions to news stories like these? We can see people take sides, sometimes before all the facts are in.
Credited to John Buchan (1875 – 1940), novelist, politician.
I am pro-pluralism and at times like this I wonder if everyone getting along respectfully isn’t the delusion of liberal idealism. Still, it’s my default position; we can respect each other and not berate our differences. But it’s a challenge. I can sound all rational and inclusive… until I get triggered and then I get passive-aggressive or worse.
On January 9th, The New Yorker printed “Unmournable Bodes” by Teju Cole. The editorial confronts the question that has to be asked about this news of the world. What if you don’t want to promote either terrorism or racism? On one hand you have insensitive journalism that preys on racial/creedal stereotypes and on the other hand, jihad. Both are dehumanizing.
“But it is possible to defend the right to obscene and racist speech without promoting or sponsoring the content of that speech. It is possible to approve of sacrilege without endorsing racism. And it is possible to consider Islamophobia immoral without wishing it illegal. Moments of grief neither rob us of our complexity nor absolve us of the responsibility of making distinctions.”
In Twelve Step/Twelve Tradition culture, creed becomes an issue of the relevance/reality of divine intervention in the process of getting and staying clean and sober. It’s not our religious or a-religious convictions per se. One can believe in their favorite Holy Book and still believe that addiction recovery is a self-help process—not a matter of divine inspiration. It comes down to not just outside agency; but we each see the role of outside forces in our recovery outcomes differently. Regardless of having our faith in Yahweh or the power of example of the group, where does our responsibility take over?
The “as we understand God” is a buffet of spiritual folklore. Don’t like a punishing judging god but want to believe there’s a divine plan for you? There’s your god. Want to plug into power but not the word god because of the religious baggage that comes with calling Yahweh by name? Have at it with your higher power. Or do you want the internal locus-of-control model? Tap away at your unsuspecting inner resource. Mix and match as you see fit. Accessorize with a heaven but no hell, reincarnation instead of finitude, your only limit is your imagination. Still, being above it all with an ashes to ashes, rotting flesh back to star-dust atheism has the rush of trading eternity tomorrow for being so intellectually superior to our myth-dependent fellows, today.
From A.A. Grapevine May 2010 we have a lesson in taking what we like without bad-mouthing the rest. Actually, this is a “one of these things is not like the other” scenario. Previously, in January 2010 an article “Without a Higher Power” gave an atheist take on recovery in AA. Here are three responses from readers. See if you can pick the one that’s different from the others:
Response to Greg H.’s Without a Higher Power published in Grapevine January 2010.
Ludicrous: I was not pleased with the story “Without a Higher Power: (January 2010). As the Big Book states, we have no defense against that first drink, but we do have “a daily reprieve contingent upon the maintenance of our spiritual condition.” Why would I need a spiritual condition, or maintain it, if it weren’t associated with a power greater than myself? The part about the sponsor saying that what the author was doing was obviously working, so let’s not try to fix it, is absolutely ludicrous. If there is one who is walking in my midst with this limited idea of AA, I will be on the lookout to work with him and hopefully get him back on this road we are trudging of happy destiny. Dale M., Lake Charles, La
Primary Purpose: Although the author’s experience did not match my own, I applaud Grapevine for publishing “Without a Higher Power.” In my 22 years in AA, the most common complaint I’ve heard from newcomers who’ve “tried it; didn’t work” was intolerance of AAs towards atheists and agnostics. Hopefully this article will help us remember our primary purpose isn’t evangelical, but to stay sober and help other alcoholics achieve sobriety. Kevin K. Centerpoint, N.Y.
All-encompassing: Thank you for publishing “Without a Higher Power.” In recent years I’ve noticed a kind of thinking among some AAs that I would consider bordering on the “fanatical.”
There is no one way to be a member of AA. The author made a beautiful statement about the all-encompassing arms of our life-saving Fellowship. George P. Hingham, Wis.[i]
None of the respondents claim to be atheists. They are all believers and none had a conversion experience from the” Without a Higher Power” article. Two believers thanked A.A. Grapevine for publishing the story and took away something themselves or saw how the story could benefit others. The other—Ludicrous—was offended that A.A. Grapevine poisoned the magazine with such blasphemy, siting the suggestion of recovery without god as plausible as a dangerous (maybe life-threatening) act of irresponsible journalism. I hope I can be more like Kevin and George and less like one-way-or-the-highway Dale.
I think it’s pretty good that two-thirds of the reactions from people with opposing worldviews are respectful of the unbeliever writer and appreciative of his input. That’s very hopeful.
Some of you may know that a few months prior, I had an article published called, “Overhaul?” asking if our early 20th century program was fit for the 21st century newcomer. Sure, some reactions were hostile towards the blasphemous idea of tinkering with our sacred text. But most agreed or disagreed with one or more ideas without being disagreeable about me, the quality of my recovery or A.A. Grapevine.
It’s easy to stop at something like this response and get angry:
Overhaul? (by MARK W.) In suggesting that atheism or agnosticism are satisfactory in the longer-term, provided one keeps an open mind, the author misses a key purpose of the Big Book. As "We Agnostics" clearly states, the book's "main object is to enable you to find a Power greater than yourself," while in "How it Works," we are reminded "there is One who has all power—the One is God," For this alcoholic, only God can effect enough change within me to stay away from the bottle.
Binary thinking is reserved for the religious. Atheism comes with its own dogma as does agnosticism. Dogmatic atheists will pronounce that religion is destructive, waning and breathing its last gasp. We’d all be better without religious mythology and they’ll rant about the crusades or pedophiles of the cloth as an example of how religion is bad and we’d all be better without it. Dogmatic agnostics won’t even let atheists or theists finish their sentence, interrupting with “It’s unknown and unknowable, why are you still talking about this; what’s the point?” Debate will frustrate a dogmatic agnostic because unsolvable riddles are an unproductive use of time. “Every rational person would agree with us,” would be the rational for any dogmatic theist, atheist or agnostic.
Last week on AAagnostica I suggested that both Big Book thumpers and Big Book bashers were dogmatic and a member took exception to “bashers” being called dogmatic just because they have the same “it’s time for change” ring to their sharing.
I will say this: both a member of a minority or a majority can hold prejudice over the other, but only the majority member can discriminate over the other. A system needs to be in place whereby literature and/or rules frustrate equality. Just as one could have an anti-visible minority prejudice or an anti-Caucasian prejudice, only one is racism in North America. If you think African Americans are superior to whites, that’s prejudice but anti-black sentiment has a system of prejudice in place to back it up—making it racism. Stats show that being born black in the USA has a different probability for wealth and education than being born white. This is systemic discrimination at play. This is borne out in gender in the workplace, sexual orientation in high school and yes—being an atheist in AA. Either an atheist or theist can be a bigot but only the theist in AA has the systemic backing to harass and discriminate against the atheist.
So, going back to being called out for calling Big Book bashers as being just as dogmatic as Big Book thumpers, I stand by what I say—each may feel superior to the other. But. to my critic’s point, the basher doesn’t have the systemic infrastructure of literature and strength in numbers to harass or discriminate against thumpers (except maybe around the table at a We Agnostics group). In this regard, the basher—the one who wants wholesale changes to the Alcoholics Anonymous text—has to be insistent, disobedient and repetitive to disturb the status quo enough to initiate change. While that may or may not be dogmatic, it is an unavoidable position. Mary Sophia Allen (British Suffergette), Malcolm X (Reformist of Islam, Capitalism and Civil Rights) or Madalyn Murray O’Hair (American Atheist)may be people, who if they laid down on a psychiatrist’s couch today, might label their negativity, temper, disobedience and hostility as Oppositional Defiance Disorder. Einstein might be in this category too.
It’s no surprise that many theists see atheists as angry. In the USA today—in or outside of the rooms—a member with a theistic worldview enjoys a status quo that embraces them while an AA atheist does not. It may be anger that the atheists are displaying. On the other hand it may be lobbying for change.
I will use myself as an example. I just wrote a letter to GSO and our latest Area delegate. It was about the current dysfunction of our two Canadian big-city Intergroups that have de-listed agnostic groups. There isn’t much that our groups can do ourselves; we have no voice on the Intergroup floors. The point of the letter was simply to ensure that no one is too comfortable with the new reality of an AA of uniformity replacing our AA of unity. While the atheist/agnostic groups are on the wrong side of “going with the flow,” Intergroup is on the wrong side the Human Rights Code in Canada. It’s just a matter of time before some frustrated AA nonbeliever files a complaint with the Provincial Human Rights Tribunal and AAs would be trading in their spiritual awakening buzz for a rude awakening zap.
The Tribunal would look at A.A. as a service provider through the Human Rights Code’s “duty to accommodate” and the Tribunal would not look at this as a local squabble the way GSO might want to. This isn’t complicated legalese. No matter what “a loving God as He expresses Himself through our group conscience” says about atheist meetings or atheist Steps, the Code ensures that minorities, based on race, sexual orientation, creed, etc. are accommodated. Rules that discriminate are rules that will be struck down by the Commission. You can find this right on the OHRC (Human Rights Commission) website:
“Organizations must ensure that they are not unconsciously engaging in systemic discrimination. This takes vigilance and a willingness to monitor and review numerical data, policies, practices and decision-making processes and organizational culture. It is not acceptable from a human rights perspective for an organization to choose to remain unaware of systemic discrimination or to fail to act when a problem comes to its attention”[ii]
Readers might see my letter as discontent, argumentative or that I am complaining. I don’t think that’s fair. I am pointing out an inequity, yes, but I am also trying to alert AA to an always present danger of AA being paraded across the front pages on the newspaper, again, framed as promoting a culture of bigotry. This is 2015; The World Convention is in Atlanta. I am sure that while all eyes of the world are on AA in Atlanta, GSO doesn’t want the press asking about members who are currently being discriminated against in the host city of the 2025 Conference, Vancouver.
So, a minority member can feel just as superior as the majority member that oppresses them. But without systems of support, only one of them can be called “discriminatory.” Let’s get back to pluralism the reality vs. pluralism the myth.
It is easy to get bent out of shape over passive-aggressive suggestions that our atheism is just anger at god or a temporary intellectual holdout, why not look at the warm reception we get from most members, instead of the bigotry of some? There is plenty of both if we look for it.
So, if one focuses on the bad, it’s easy to be negative. Phil Zuckerman’s Living the Secular Life combines personal anecdotes and sociological insights to craft a guide for living without religion. The book seems aimed primarily at the USA, the developed country with the largest per-capita belief in a personal god.
He uses stats that we’ve reviewed before from the Pew Research Center. Expanding on a Washington Post article he wrote called, “Why Do Americans still dislike Atheists?” he looked at people’s opinion of atheists compared to Muslims, homosexuals and people of other faith.
“A lot of religious Americans don’t like or trust people who don’t believe in God because they assume that atheism is the same thing as being without morals. This assumption is so widely spread that In many surveys atheists come in at the last place when Americans are asked to rank members of certain racial, ethnic, or religious groups as potential spouses for their kids. … 43% of Americans said that they would not vote for an atheist for president, putting atheist in last/worst place, behind Muslims for president. Homosexuals (30 percent wouldn’t), Mormons (18 percent wouldn’t) Latinos (7 percent wouldn’t), Jews (6 percent wouldn’t), Catholic (5 percent wouldn’t), Women (5 percent wouldn’t) and African Americans (4 percent).”[iii]
“See,” you say. “Over 10 times the number of people in America won’t vote for atheists compared to African Americans or Jews.” True; but almost 60% of American’s would consider voting for an atheist. I don’t deny this is a great handicap in any political race. Nevertheless, having 57% of votes at least considering you ought not to be discounted. Put in a more positive light, over ½ of American’s don’t liken atheist to devil-worshippers. Yes, 100% of Americans ought to treat atheists equally, but over half—that is at least a big improvement over how it was 20 years ago and it seems to be continuing to move in the right direction.
If you think being an atheist in AA is an uphill battle in the popularity contest department, try being an atheist minister. Gretta Vosper has two books published since she came out to her congregation and the elders at the United Church of Canada. Gretta is an atheist. She doesn’t see throwing out the good deeds with the dogmatic myths as productive. She founded the Canadian Centre for Progressive Christianity and she continues to lead the West Hill United Church in Toronto’s east end.
“I do find it hard to imagine that preserving an institution for preservation’s sake itself is anything more than an enormous waste of time and energy. But I do think that the church is well placed to bring about some significant change in the world. And change in the world is desperately needed.”[iv]
She sees the infrastructure of the Church as flawed and imperfect but still virtuous. From the statement above, she goes on to talk about how many sects and denominations got behind the 2003 United Nations, “International Year of Freshwater. “ She gives other examples. We hear the Catholic Pope today campaigning for positive climate change initiatives and more economic and social equity.
If a church can be a church with or without God, I am sure Twelve Step fellowships can embrace a “with or without God” worldview. Our primary purpose isn’t directly connected to any theology. Our preamble and our Traditions don’t defend any particular program of recovery. Instead, they remind us how to get along with each other and in the world around us.
While in the habit of reading Beyond Belief: Agnostic Musings for 12 Step Life, Jay in Sedona invited me to host a weekend recovery retreat on the theme of “Beyond Belief.” He asked me if I would and I said, “Yes.” He asked me who I’d like to work with and without hesitation I said, “John McAndrew.” A parish priest for 18 years, John has also worked as both a bereavement and an addictions counselor. I don’t want to frame the Twelve Steps as better secular. I want to talk about the bilingualism, biculturalism of the Twelve Steps. How better to do that than to co-host an event with a theologian?
I still have a warm feeling when I think about being invited by the Ontario Regional Conference of A.A. (2012) to speak on the Spiritual Panel (in the Concert Hall, Fairmont Royal York Hotel, pictured); it was the two Joes—Joe R, priest and Joe C, atheist. We both have decades of sobriety; we both stay sober in A.A. If anything, I got out-outrageous-ed by Joe the Catholic priest.
He was awesome; Joe spoke—I was in awe. It was a celebration of pluralism and people continue to share with me their fond memories of how that meeting helped them overcome their own narcissism of small differences. We share the experience of addiction and we share the experience of recovery. The narrative changes from one worldview to another but believing and belonging are not synonymous.
What do Maxwell House Coffee, Grape-Nuts cereal, Kool-Ade, Jello and Marlborough cigarettes all have in common? Well their formulas are engineered by chemists that all work for the same companies. Companies that continue to get sued over misleading us about the health issues of their cigarettes are now processing many of the foods we eat each day.
How about that; “Don’t smoke, Suzzie, it’s addictive and it will make you unhealthy,” we say to our daughter as as we pour her a bowl of yogurt that may has more sugar than Honey-Nut Cheerios. Have you ever heard of bliss-point? That’s the term chemists that make processed foods call the perfect amount of salt, sugar and fat that will create craving in you for more, will play with your brain chemistry and be whispering to your addictive tendencies while you hold hands and recite the Serenity Prayer.
Episode Ten of Rebellion Dogs Radio is please to invite Dr. Very Tarman to our show. Vera is Medical Director of Renascent Treatment Centres and she just authored a new book, Food Junkies: The Truth About Food Addiction. We talk about process addiction in general – sex, food, gambling etc. We talk about the food industries role in consumer eating habits and we talk about the latest in addiction and recovery.
Not long ago, buying yogurt or granola meant you were buying health-food. It’s not so simple today. Food is designed to fight for stomach space against all the other consumer-goods companies. This episode of Rebellion Dogs Radio will help you get to know Dr. Vera better and her experience with addiction might surprise you. If it’s true that we are what we eat then we owe it to ourselves to better understand how the food industry is making Food Junkies out of us all.
We look at the DSM-5 which is the latest manual that helps doctors diagnose mental health and addiction problems. We'll also look at what Dr. Gabor Maté (In the Realm of Hungry Ghosts), Marc Lewis (Memoirs of an Addicted Brian), Patrick Carnes (A Gentle Path through the Twelve Steps) and Michael Moss (Salt Sugar Fat) have to say and more.
Food Junkies has been on the market for just over a month. It offers readers both the science and the craft of addiction and recovery. Expertise and real-life experience are combined in a book that I can't wait to tell you more about. Enjoy Episode Ten of Rebellion Dogs Radio.
Please feel free to download a free PDF transcript of this show HERE if you want to follow along or refer back to anything that was said on the show. As always, join the conversation on Twitter or Facebook.
Show notes for further exploration:  http://www.renascent.ca/  Tarman, Dr. Vera, Food Junkies: The Truth About Food Addiction, Toronto: Dundurn, 2014  Thompson, Damian, The Fix: How Addiction is Taking Over Your World, London: Harper Collins Publishers, 2012  Moss, Michael, Salt Sugar Fat, New York: Penguin Random House, 2014  Maté, Gabor, Ted Talk, https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=66cYcSak6nE  Kessler, David A., The End of Overeating: Talking Control of the Insatiable American Appetite, New York: Rodale Books, 2009  Lewis, Marc, Memoirs of an Addicted Brain. Toronto: Double Day Canada, 2011 pp. 158 – 159  From the Diagnostic and Statistical Manual of Mental Disorders, 5th Edition (section 312.31)  http://www.asam.org/publications/president%27s-blog/asam-president%27s-blog/2013/01/27/when-will-there-be-definitions-and-terminology-in-addiction-medicine  Carnes, Patrick, A Gentle Path Through the Twelve Step, Center City: Hazelden Foundation, 1993,.
Welcome to Rebellion Dogs Radio Episode IX where we bring you highlights of the first ever We Agnostics & Freethinkers International A.A. Conference from Santa Monica California, November 2014. So much content is available on this and we include many links included in this blog. Rebellion Dogs Radio # 9 will include segments from the keynotes given. Click on the link above or bellow to start listening. We have a teaser for Phyllis H., A.A. General Service Office GM, Marya H, author of Waiting: A Nonbeliever's Higher Power and Class A Trustee, Reverend Ward Ewing.
Workshops, Keynote Speakers , panels AA meetings from atheist/agnostic groups from around the world meant there was a rich program at WAFT IAAC and we can't get everything worth saying into one show. We'll continue to talk about this historical event in upcoming shows. The punchline, if you haven't heard is we're doing it again in 2016, We Agnostics, Atheists & Freethinkers International A.A. Conference will be in Austin Texas and we'll do it again, somewhere, every two years.
This wasn’t AA’s rogue nonbelievers off on their own; It was General Service Office (GSO), Conference delegates past and present from all over America, supporters who don’t doubt a loving God in their own life but believe in an AA that speaks the language of everyone with a desire to stop drinking. There were about 300 of us in Santa Monica November 6th to 8th. You'll hear segments form four of the talks recorded at the conference by Dave S. at Encore Audio Archives. You can buy your own mp3s or CDs at: http://www.12steptapes.com/waft.html
I wondered what customs and rituals would be included and what AA customs and rituals would be excluded. While there isn’t any praying at most agnostic/atheist meetings, some read the Twelve Steps, some do not, some read a secular interpretation agreed upon by the ultimate authority in AA, their own group conscience. So it the interest of less is more, there were no readings, no chanting at any of the main-room meetings. Can you have an AA meeting without reading How It Works or praying for serenity? You sure can. And we did. No one in attendance wondered where they were. It was as AA as any meeting you’ve ever been to.
There were AA meetings hosted by secular AA meetings all around the world and they ran those meetings exactly how they run them in their own town. To A.A. fundamentalists who want to, or have, high-jacked their local Intergroups or AA local offices this chaos seems unusual. In places like Toronto where Intergroup still discriminates against agnostic groups and have replaced regional AA unity with AA uniformity, GSO is saddened by your bigotry. No one will tell you to get in line, be more loving and tolerant, practice the Traditions instead of your rigid view of what AA ought to be for all members or all groups. It will be left to your conscience, but listen along and ask yourself if our founders were alive today would they be more likely to be thanking you for discriminating against nonbeliever's AA groups; or would they be celebrating recovery, unity and service with us in Santa Monica?
Andrew Solomon is a New York Times writer and author of Far from the Tree: Parents, Children and the Search for Identity. Solomon says something in a Ted Talk that is so right-on for this historic weekend in Santa Monica:
“There is always someone there to take our humanity away and always someone to restore it. Oppression breeds the power to oppose it. Identity politics always works on two fronts. First it gives pride to someone who has given characteristics and secondly, it causes the outside world to treat such people more gently, more kindly.”
It is strangely that it is the tyranny of these rogue Intergroups and AA club houses that harass atheist AA members that we have to thank for this conference. As Solomon points out, while they try to take another's dignity or humanity away, they instead, help set in motion a fellowship wide reaction that celebrates We Agnostics & Freethinkers AA Conference. We enjoy the supported by the larger AA community while they look at discrimination in AA with concern. Oh the law of unintended consequences.
General Service Conference Chair Emeritus Reverend Ward Ewing (Pictured courtesy of Ken Sherry) talks about the traps of feeling like a phoney and the dangers of specific theology creeping into AA meetings under the guise of "spirituality." GSO General Manager, Phyllis H. shares a few prime Bill W. writings and shares what other founders and trusted servants have said about both celebrating AA diversity and the dangers of dogmatic or rigid interpretations of AA's message. The author of Waiting: A Nonbelievers Higher Power, Marya H. is no stranger to Rebellion Dogs. We have a snippet of her talk included, too.
To those who know her, Marya was as poetic, prepared and thoughtful as we’ve come to enjoy. She was sincerely delighted to be part of this humble bit of AA history. Marya’s story of one is one of being entirely ready when she ran thin on alcoholic bottoms, she was sincere and willing to do what might work—regardless of the suggestions compatibility with her worldview. She acknowledged that the language of the Steps (ie: the God stuff) doesn’t talk to all of us and certainly falls short of giving answers. While she sees that people stay sober praying and turning it over, what was a nonbeliever to do to work the Steps?
In his whole talk Ward Ewing will describe the Hope, Honest, Belonging and Gratitude that he sees in the AA way of life. He tells some moving and humorous stories that this show doesn’t have the time to tell. A theme that Ward Started and delegates and members picked up on was that everyone in AA shares a common experience. He nailed it by describing our common AA experience as “when the impossible becomes possible.” Almost everyone in AA around the world would agree with that. When we add the adjective “spiritual” experience, now I don’t agree with your definition of spiritual or you’re offended with what I mean by it and now the experience that agreed upon just a moment ago, we don’t agree with anymore.Curious isn’t it, how the narcissism of small differences can be triggered by such an innocent word.
As the sun came down over Santa Monica Boulevard on the Friday night, Phyllis H. would close out with a lot of quotes from our founders and former Trustees. She was touched to be invited and We Agnostics and Atheists were moved that General Service Office was so supportive of us. It was truly healing. We started with Reverend Ward Ewing, the best friend an atheist or agnostic could have in AA. We conclude with Phyllis H. who personified the idea that together AA is better and everyone is welcome in AA and sobriety in AA possible without having to accept someone else’s beliefs or having to deny your own.
There was a Conference Delegate’s panel and one of AA’s trusted servants made it clear that we can read anything we want in an AA meeting. Nothing is sacred and nothing is forbidden. Write our own literature, use conference approved literature or anything our group conscience dictates. There was a workshop on how to start your own meeting with a secular, humanist or or agnostic style, free of religion, God-talk and prayer. Over half of all atheist/agnostic groups today have started since 2010. We know of no faster growing segment of AA growth. The only limits are our own imagination.
Don't be surprised if AA's Literature Committee or Grapevine re-think literature for nonbelievers. In the meantime, WAAFTIAAC will be creating our own community, outreach and literature to ensure that whenever someone reaches out for help, the hand of AA will always be there.
Attention Deficit Hyperactive Disorder, Obsessive Compulsive Disorder – what if you have these traits as well as addiction? Dr. Tim Bilkey and guitarist Paul Nelson are both guests on Rebellion Dogs Radio Episode 8 to help us tell the story of addiction comorbidity or dual diagnosis or double-winners if you prefer. Not to minimize or oversimplify but consider that being left-handed is not a disorder. We live in a world that is largely designed with right-handed advantages but left-handed people don’t need to fix their predisposition. We lefties might have to be a bit more proactive than righties. Though a minority in a right-handed world, not many of see ourselves as handicapped.
Though not by degree, the same holds true for those of us with OCD, ADHD or addiction for that matter; we don’t need an alcohol free world in which to thrive—we only need to make conscious adjustments to a world that sees no need to baby us. In these notes, we’ll look at how not to be a slave to these conditions. We’re not helpless. Some lefties will buy left-handed scissors, some will adjust to right handed scissors and others will train themselves to do certain tasks right-handed. There is help available for those of us who present with ADHD or OCD from self-help to cognitive behavioral therapy to medicine.
Maybe as you’re reading you’re already doing a check list to evaluate yourself. Do you think you have any obsessive or compulsive symptoms beyond your obvious relationship with your drug(s) of choice? Are you chronically late, forgetful or do you have a hard time focusing on even the chores that are very important to you? What about others in your life? Who would you label with ADHD or OCD? Let’s look at smoking; you either smoke or you know what it’s like to walk through the blue cloud as you enter the school, church or community center that is home to your 12-Step meeting. There’s a reason why there’s more smokers outside the AA or NA meeting than there is outside the book club, city council meeting or any other gathering that isn’t all-addicts. We’ll look at some definitions of Attention Deficit Hyperactivity Disorder and Obsessive Compulsive Order first:
Attention Deficit Hyperactivity Disorder:
“ADHD is five to 10 times more common among adult alcoholics than it is in people without the condition. Among adults being treated for alcohol and substance abuse, the rate of ADHD is about 25%...
People with ADHD tend to be more impulsive and likely to have behavior problems, both of which can contribute to drug and alcohol abuse, researchers say. Also, both ADHD and alcoholism tend to run in families. A child with ADHD who has a parent with alcoholism is more likely to also develop an alcohol abuse problem. Researchers have pointed to common genes shared between ADHD and alcoholism.”[i]
Obsessive Compulsive Disorder and addiction:
“OCD, is an anxiety disorder in which an individual experiences recurring thoughts that cause irrational fears and anxiety. Individuals with OCD engage in repeated, compulsive rituals, such as counting items, hand washing and organizing. Executing these rituals provides temporary relief while they are being performed, but the anxiety returns soon after they stop. OCD is a highly destructive disorder that can overtake the life of an individual and keep him from enjoying many life’s most rewarding activities.
The Journal of Anxiety Disorders estimates that over 25 percent of those who seek treatment for OCD also meet the criteria for a substance use disorder. Individuals who experience OCD symptoms for the first time in childhood or adolescence are more likely to develop a drug or alcohol problem, often as a way to cope with overwhelming anxiety and fear. Treating an addictive disorder without addressing the emotional symptoms of OCD is unlikely to be effective.”[ii]
Chapter Five of Alcoholics Anonymous describers those will struggle with the AA modality. In the 1939 language AA writers, “There are those, too, who suffer from grave emotional and mental disorders, but many of them do recovery if they have the capacity to be honest.”
There is more to grave emotional and mental disorders that simply Obsessive Compulsive Disorder and Attention Deficit Hyperactivity Disorder. But this is what we’re focusing on for this blog/radio show. To help tell this story, we invite to our show a psychiatrist who will relate to us his clinical experience, plus a professional guitar player who had a layperson’s firsthand experience managing his friend, guitar legend, Johnny Winter which included dealing with addiction and OCD.
Dr. Tim Bilkey (pictured) specialized is adult ADHD. He has two videos, ADHA Across The Lifespan and Her Fast Mind: An In Depth Look at ADHDas it affects Women. F.A.S.T. M.I.N.D.S. is an acronym that Tim Bilkey has developed to help test for ADHD. This 2013 co-authored book: Fast Minds: How to Thrive If You Have ADHD (Or think you do) is published by Harvard Health Publications.
Our second guest, guitarist Paul Nelson (pictured right of Johnny Winter), had a dream come true when he got to play with his childhood idol, Johnny Winter. Paul was asked to take over managing Johnnny and the band. In 2014, just after Johnny Winter’s 70th birthday Winter died while on a European tour as his career was experiencing a resurgence. Before Johnny died director Greg Oliver completed, Johnny Winter: Down & Dirty, a documentary that Paul Nelson was executive producer for. The movie debuted at SXSW in March of 2014 and it includes appearances form brother Edgar Winter, Aerosmith’s Joe Perry, ZZ Top’s Bill Gibson, footage with BB King, Janis Joplin and plenty of fans in North America, Asia and Europe. We talk to Paul Nelson in the limo from Toronto International Airport to the Canadian debut of Johnny Winter: Down & Dirty as part of Toronto’s Reel Independent Film Festival in October, 2014.
Meanwhile, Dr. Tim Bilkey was addressing the Bellwood Health Services Many Faces of Addiction, at their 6th annual addiction symposium. Dr. Tim Bilkey was good enough to make time for us just as guests were arriving to a private party he was hosting. In typical Rebellion Dogs guerrilla-radio style, our interview was in the basement kitchen of Boland's Open Kitchen on Mt. Pleasant Road in Toronto.
Here is what the acronym FAST MINDS stands for. See if you identify:
F – Forgetful A – Achieving below potential S – Stuck in a rut T – Time challenged M – Motivationally challenged I – Impulsive N – Novelty seeking D – Distractible S – Scattered
In the book Fast Minds, Dr. Bilkey describes those of us with ADHD as having learning differences – not learning disabilities. Dealing with ADHD is a three-fold approach; Accommodation / Medication / Mindfulness. In Bilkey’s presentation to the Many Faces of Addiction delegates, the doctor disclosed his closeness to Big-Pharma; among his speaking commitments Dr. Bilkey is a spokesperson and consultant to some of the manufacturers of ADHD drugs. We talk in the radio interview about special considerations with medications when it comes to addicts.
For anyone with a 12-Step background, Bilkey unintentionally talks our language. He describes his book as self-help and I would describe it as easy reading. Like addiction recovery, a blend of talking personal responsibility and seeking outside help is required to thrive with ADHD. The Fast Minds approach draws on the three prerequisites that 12-Step modality draw on—honesty, open-mindedness and willingness. There is list making, not unlike personal inventories and our lists of people we have affected with our addiction. There are action steps like sharing our shortcomings with another and making amends. Fast Minds self-help treatment isn’t 12-Steps but the core principles we are familiar with do manifest themselves in Dr. Bilkey’s book.
The first three steps for success with ADHD are: awareness, decision, getting and accepting help. Doesn’t that have a Step One, Two, Three sound to it? Step one is to admit and accept (be aware of) our habits, choices and emotions. Acceptance is the key. Then in Step Two, we have to make a decision; we chose our priorities and identify the steps to get there. Step Three is to help ourselves. Beyond our immediate resources we seek out and engage the help we need. That could be professional help, medicine, electronic devices that help focus and organize us, and/or engaging friends and loved ones to give us feedback. We create an environment that accommodates our style.
This step-by-step process isn’t so far off from admitting we have a problem that is making our lives unmanageable, come to believe that there is a better way and making a decision to seek and accept help. The fourth level (step) in what Bilkey calls the Pyramid for Success with Adult ADHD is to design your life with structure and accountability. We accept what we can’t change and have the personal responsibility to change the things we can.
Every addict ought to identify with some aspects of obsessive-compulsive disorders. To be addicted is to be preoccupied and obsessed with our drug-of-choice. Process or substance addictions such as drinking, gambling or sexual compulsion, all have rituals and repetitive processes enslaving the addict insofar as we are more driven by our habits than by our free will. OCDs are activities that relieve anxiety. Duh—so does drinking. But like drinking the relief is short lived and the costs to the consequences or side-effects may get progressively worse.
Does it seem hypocritical to you that people—be they bragging or exuding gratitude—talk of how they were spared from the ravages of addiction through a spiritual awakening while puffing on cigarettes that will likely cause premature death from a preventable habit? Let me back off a bit if I sound rigid or self-righteous. I want to be clear that there is a difference between a bad habit and chronic, unmanageable addiction. Some of us smoke and some of us eat more chips and ice cream than we’d like; but smoking and overeating doesn’t have us lying to our kids, parents and employers or going to jail for driving over the limit, committing sex crimes or selling narcotics.
While some of us smoke and overeat and call it “living a little,” some of us wish we could control ourselves but can’t. We aren’t blind to the consequences of unhealthy choices. Yes, we already endured the temptations and risks that face any addict/alcoholic who transitions from addiction to recovery; we made it through to the other side. It seems like a cruel joke that knowing what we know, achieving what we’ve achieved, we still can’t apply our knowledge and experience to stopping these other habits. Just saying no to smoking is a simple act of willpower for some and a bafflingly ineffective to others. If we were the same, Charles Duhigg’s The Power of Habit or the best seller of the last generation, Stephen Covey’s The 7 Habits of Highly Effective People, or the Twelve Steps themselves, would convert everyone. The compromised life of bad habits would be swiftly traded for the fulfilling life of good habits—if it was just about desire and commitment. But books and Step don’t work for everyone and everything. OCD (and ADHD) can explain some of this. Paul Nelson talks of how a methadone-free Johnny Winter was a more obsessive/compulsive Johnny Winter. Freedom from addiction didn’t solve his problems, it exposed them. Johnny Winter had to go to therapy for OCD and so did the whole family and band. In the end, Nelson was frustrated that while Johnny Winter’s story had a happy ending in one sense, his life, career and the joy he brought to others was cut short because Paul could never help Winter quit smoking.
From DualDiagnosis.org above, we read a definition of obsessive-compulsive disorder and how it frequently makes fast friends with addiction. Some of who have had success in 12-Step recovery think we should be able to do it ourselves when it comes to emotional or mental health. We are reluctant to admit to ourselves that we are suffering if we see the 12-Steps as a cure-all. We may be reluctant to share this new setback with others. Shame doesn’t make it easier. We live in a society that loves to judge, celebrating our successes and also condemning us for falling short or not conforming to the norm.
In the UK, a community/charity helps lend support to OCD suffers. Here’ how OCD UK frames the challenges to, and benefits of, seeking help:
“When you first see a health care professional about your symptoms, it is very important that you are honest and open about your thoughts and behaviours, no matter how embarrassing they may seem. Almost certainly, they have heard it all before – and by being honest, you will help them to identify the most suitable treatment for you.
Many OCD sufferers have depression and thoughts about harming themselves or others, and for some suicidal thoughts are also a feature – it is important to discuss these feelings openly and honestly.
Also, many people with OCD, especially those with thoughts of a physical, sexual or harmful nature, are fearful of the consequences if they tell anyone about what goes on their heads. Whilst we generally encourage people with OCD to be honest and open about their thoughts and symptoms, you may wish to talk with your GP or therapist in general terms first of all until you feel comfortable that they actually understand OCD. Generally, most therapists that do understand OCD will have heard your story many times before, and will probably read between the lines and will help you by asking direct questions which will make it easier for you to open up.”[iii]
It is not surprising that Cognitive Behavioral Therapy is a natural choice for sufferers of OCD. While some medicines can help some suffers relieve their anxiety, for those of us who are pill-adverse, there can be lasting benefit from CBT. The automatic thoughts and feelings and especially the extreme of anxiety and depression can be mitigated by the thought (and feeling) records that are part of the thinking/feeling/behaving inventory of the CBT process. OCD patients might just apply their OCD to the CBT, replacing an unproductive habit with the positive activity of understanding and monitoring the cycle of thoughts, feelings and actions that we are trying to be more conscious of. In Paul’s story of how he helped transition Johnny Winter (pictured above with Jimi Hendrix) from negative to positive habits, he joked that Johnny could get as committed to a healthy vanilla milkshake as he could to his methadone or nicotine dependency.
While Dr. Bilkey’s tool kit will surely be a permanent part of my own self-help it will also have a long shelf-life on my recommended readings for fellow travellers I talk to or work with. Another book that I recommend whenever it’s appropriate is Gabor Maté’s Scattered Minds. While Tim Bilkey’s Fast Minds is more current, one feature of Gabor Maté’s writing style is his sharing of his personal journey.
Gabor Maté was diagnosed with Attention Deficit Disorder by the medical health practitioner that was working with his affected children. Like addiction, AD(H)D is often hereditary. The Maté book blends the clinical explanation with his first-hand personal accounts of his struggle. Like the 12-Step fellowship approach, Maté shares his troubles in this 1999 book.
He writes: "Where they know it or not, a large number of people addicted to behaviors and substances of various sorts have attention deficit disorder, no matter what their proclivity may be: for gambling, compulsive sexual roving, chronic impulsive buying, workaholism, excessive physical training, danger-seeking pursuits, like drag racing or for nicotine or cocaine, alcohol or marijuana. As an example, according to some surveys, the rate of smoking among the ADD population is three times that among the non-ADD population.
It is easy to understand the appeal addictive substances would have for the ADD brain. Nicotine, for one, makes people more alert and improves mental efficiency. It also elevates mood, by stimulating, the release in the brain of neurochemicals dopamine, important in feeling of reward and motivation, and endorphins, the brain’s natural opioids, which induce feelings of pleasure. The endorphins, being related in chemical structure to morphine, also serve as analgesics, soothing both physical and emotional pain."[iv]
In Scattered Minds, Maté gets very personal with us:
"Terrified of my mind, I had always dreaded spending a moment alone with it. There always had to be a book in my pocket as an emergency kit in case I was every trapped waiting anywhere, even for one minute, be it a bank lineup or supermarket checkout counter. I was forever throwing my mind scraps to feed on, as if to a ferocious and malevolent beat that would devour me the moment it was not chewing on something else. All my life I had known no other way to be.
The shock of self-recognition many adults experience on learning about ADD is both exhilarating and painful. It gives coherence, for the first time, to humiliations and failures, to plans unfulfilled and promises unkept, to gusts of manic enthusiasm that consume themselves in their own mad dance, leaving emotional debris in their wake, to the seemingly limitless disorganization of activities, of brain, car, desk, room.
ADD seems to explain many of my behaviour patterns, thought processes, childish emotional reactions, my workaholism and other addictive tendencies, the sudden eruption of bad temper and complete irrationality, the conflicts in my marriage and my Jekyll and Hyde way of relating to my children.[v]
The driven and hyperfunctioning workaholic tries to delude himself that he must be very important, since so many people want him. His frenetic activity numbs him to emotional pain and keeps his sense of inadequacy out of sight, out of mind. During a group psychotherapy session a few years ago, I heard one of the leaders say that a truly important person is one who considers himself worthy enough to grant himself at least one hour each day that he can call his own. I had to laugh. I realized I had worked so hard and make myself so ‘important’ that I couldn’t beg, borrow or steal a minute for myself.
There is one major respect in which the specific neurophysiological impairments of ADD do hinder the development of a cores sense of self and the attainment of self-esteem. … The fluctuations are greater and more rapid than most people’s experiences. It seems there is less to hold on to. Self-esteem does require a degree of self-regulation, which the neurophysiology of ADD sabotages. The child or adult easily flung into extremes of emotion and behavior does not acquire the mastery over impulses that self-esteem demands.”
If you’re in the 12-Step community you may or may not suffer from ADHD; but you’re going to encounter your fair share of those of us who are OCD or ADHD in the rooms. Fast Minds is written in plain language, it uses anecdotal case histories. It has practical ideas that I found helps me deal more consciously and less reactively to the FAST MINDS symptoms I live with. Again, the videos are ADHD Across the Lifespan and Her Fast Mind: An In Depth Look At ADHD As It Affects Women.
The movie Johnny Winter: Down & Dirty or the new record Step Back which was posthumously released September 2nd 2014 are part of the legacy of Johnny Winter (February 23, 1944 – July 16, 2014). Watch this doc, listen to this record. The Johnny Winter story is a good-news story. It portrays addiction and mental health as a process—not an event—in the lives of people like us. The legacy of music, which is dozens of studio, live and compilation records from 1968 to 2014, is a reminder to me that we need not see mental health conditions (OCD in Winter’s case) as a handicap; look how productive and successful Johnny Winter was. Again, it’s like being left-handed. I’m left handed. I play guitar; it’s no handicap; it requires slight adjustments.
Most left-handed guitarists adjust by using guitars that are strung left handed. Like the righty guitars, lefty guitars have the thickest wound string is at the top of the guitar neck and the thinnest unwound string at the bottom. That’s what Paul McCartney does and that’s what Jimi Hendrix did.
I play a right-handed guitar upside down. The thin string is at the top and the thickest string at the bottom. I didn’t know anyone famous who did this but later I found several – some indie musicians, some casual players and some stars. Is it a handicap? Well most chords are designed for playing the other way around. All music books that teach music have to be transcribed (interpreted) and some songs just can’t be duplicated to sound the way a right-handed person would play a right-handed guitar.
Limits also bring opportunities. Surf-rock legend Dick Dale made his idiosyncrasy an advantage creating unforgettable sounds that favor an upside-down lefty. Blues man Albert King was an upside-down lefty. He preferred the Gibson Flying-V design guitar (over the more popular Gibson Les Paul or Fender Stratocaster) because it presents no handicap playing the high notes when you turn it upside down. Canadian, Mark Gane of Martha and The Muffins wasn’t handicapped when he wrote hit songs “Echo Beach,” “White Station/Black Station” or “Women Around the World at Work.”
I didn’t know it when I started but I wasn’t alone as an upside-down lefty. Lots of guitars that went before me found ways to accommodate. I am sure many more lefties learned to play right-handed, too. I did it so that I could play anyone else’s guitar and they could play mine. I don’t need a handicap sticker on my guitar case.
Being an alcoholic doesn’t exclude us from society. Some will choose dry gatherings over bars or other licensed surroundings. Some sober alcoholics are bar-tenders and do their job their own way but just as well as any of their colleagues. For many more, it’s not black and white. Before going to a wedding or to watch the big game at a sports bar we check our motives and see if we’re emotionally and mentally fit. The world will go on if we feel that we need to cancel.
The same is true with mental health issues. Like other disorders, ADHD and OCD come in light, medium and extreme versions. Some of us will have more limits forced upon us than others. All of us can benefit from learning more, being willing and seeking help when necessary.
The Big Book of Alcoholics Anonymous - On one side are the thumpers, muckers and literalists who claim than no modality has touched the healing force of the Twelve Steps as outlined in Alcoholics Anonymous. On the other side, reformers say it's misogynistic, religious, archaic, while it was a good start to the mutual-aid discussion, as the center-piece of any AA meeting today, it makes us look Amish-like, declining modern customs for the ways of our ancestors.
I have been in the middle of these debates. But today I ask, what does it matter? If you like the book, read it from Foreword to 164, over and over. If you don't, leave it be. Recommend that your group read something else, or nothing at all. Or maybe we should talk about a new book instead of a revised book - either/or instead of one or the other.
If you don't like back-to-basics style of AA, get REALLY back-to-basics with AA as an oral tradition, no book, a one-day-at-a-time program of showing up, opening up, helping others. There is no need to feel persecuted by a book that has no opinion on your impression of it and no wish to control you. The authors didn't canonize the founders or make the text sacred; my generation did that. Sorry - our bad.
Stewardship is about two roles - preparing and protecting. Ask any parent how hard it is to be good at both. On Episode Seven, we look at the opinions of trusted servants who have served at AA's General Service Conference in the 1980s, the turn of the century and current (Panel 63 General Service Conference). We will hear a plea for AA to always be progressive, to never rest on our laurels. We will hear the protective argument about how imaginative personalization of an age-old-process is sacrilege. One side says rigidity will cause the death of AA. The other side says experimentation isn't worth the risk. Bill Wilson said that both progress and protection were what he had in mind with the Twelve Traditions. "You can't have one without the other."
Sources used in today's radio show: Better Times (Toronto September 2014) "Don't mess with the message" http://aatoronto.org/btarchive/BT_2014_09.pdf Bob P's (1961 to 1986) "If you were to ask me what is the greatest danger facing A.A. today, I would have to answer: the growing rigidity -- the increasing demand for absolute answers to nit-picking questions; pressure for G.S.O. to "enforce" our Traditions; screening alcoholics at closed meetings; prohibiting non-Conference-approved literature, i.e., "banning books"; laying more and more rules on groups and members." http://www.hindsfoot.org/pearson.html John K, 2003: "Our co-founders were pragmatists - try something,test it, change it, review it, test it, then change, review,test it again." http://www.aa.org/newsletters/en_US/en_box459_april-may04.pdf
You will hear about our need for protection, of progress too, and how challenging it is to gain balance and consensus on both.
Get your reading spectacles on – It’s Book Club time!Podcast #6 looks at great recovery books that widen our gateway.
On www.RebellionDogsPublishing.com you will find a bookstore. We’re talking about reading on this blog-post (and podcast). Not only is planet Earth’s first secular daily reflection book, Beyond Belief: Agnostic Musings for 12 Step Life available in our book store but many eBooks and hard-copy books by and for addicts/alcoholics/codependents are available.
As 12-Steppers, we are all readers/listeners and we are all storytellers or writers. It was flattering and fascinating for us to read Not God: A History of Alcoholics Anonymous because Ernie Kurtz isn’t one of us. He is observing us and telling us and the whole world what he sees.
Chuck Palahniuk is an author we associate with fiction. He wrote Fight Club. He has a 2004 book called Stranger than Fiction: True Stories. In his introduction he talks about the similarities of crafting a true story and a fictional story. He studied us, too. Palahniuk attended self-help groups for those who suffered from various sicknesses and addictions. When we think about the relevance of reading about our stories or about telling our stories, there is value in hearing what outsiders say about our oral tradition of carrying the message. Chuck Palhniuk describes twelve-step groups (or other support groups) in this way:
“…they’ve come to serve the role that organized religion used to. We used to go to church to reveal the worst aspects of ourselves, our sins. To tell our stories. To be recognized. To be forgiven. And to be redeemed, accepted back in to our community. This ritual was our way to stay connected to people, and to resolve our anxiety before it could take us so far from humanity that we would be lost. “In these places I found the truest stories. In support groups. In hospitals. Anywhere people had nothing left to lose, that’s where they told the most truth… “While researching my fourth book, Choke, I sat in on sex-addicts talk therapy sessions, twice each week for six months. Wednesday and Friday nights. “In so many ways, these rap sessions weren’t much different that the Thursday-night writers’ workshop I attended. Both groups were just people telling their stories. The sexaholics might’ve been a little less concerned about “craft,” but they still told their stories of anonymous bathroom sex and prostitutes with enough skill to get a good reaction from their audience. Many of these people had talked in meetings for so many years that hearing them, you heard a great soliloquy. A brilliant actor paying him- or herself. A one-person monologue that showed an instinct for slowly revealing key information, creating dramatic tension, setting up payoffs and completely enrolling the listener. … “Telephone sex lines, illness support groups, twelve-step groups, all these places are schools for learning how to tell a story effectively. Out loud. To people. Not just to look for ideas, but how to perform. “We live our lives according to stories. About being Irish or being balck. About working hard or shooting heroin. Being male or female. And we spend our lives looking for evidence—facts and proof—that support our story. As a writer, you just recognize that part of human nature.”
One of the things we notice when we look at AA’s new pamphlet, “Many Path’s to Spirituality,” the publication doesn’t try to define spirituality. It draws from the experience of spirituality expressed from a few very varied storytellers of different creedal and cultural backgrounds and it expresses that not only is there no wrong way to do AA, but that there isn’t even a preferred way to get and stay sober a’la Alcoholics Anonymous. It talks about many paths to experiencing spirituality without feeling obligated to defining it. Ours is an oral (or written) tradition of sharing our experiences. AA has been either lucky or wise in never hand-cuffing ourselves to a definition of addiction nor a definition of recovery. We describe how it looks and feels to each other. And that, is good enough. Certainly, it’s as good as it gets in the rooms of 12-Step recovery.
Listen to the podcast for a review of these books, available as eBooks or hard-copies.
My Name is Lillian and I’m an Alcoholic (and an Atheist):
So there’s a glimpse into what’s on my bookshelf. Feel free to stockpile or order one-a-moth from http://rebelliondogspublishing.com/bookstore or, if you have a favorite bookstore, they can order any of these. Let us know what we’re missing and/or should be talking up.
There have been some books that I have read and wouldn’t recommend. I stick to the, “If you don’t have anything nice to say, don’t say anything at all” motto. That’s a rule I will break, but you really have to inspire me with stubbornness or stupidity for me to rant away with a counter-point. The book The Sober Truth (Episode Four) was one of these examples.
A PDF transcript of this show is available HERE. Come back and visit any time after August 8th. Enjoy the (Rebellion) Dog Days of summer.
A boy says, “Mommy, when I grow up, I want to be a songwriter.” The Mother smiles and replies, “Now darling, you know you can’t do both.”
READ, PRINT or DOWNLOAD as a PDF: “Rebellion dogs our every step” in our constant quest of self-improvement. Sometimes it’s time to put the pop-psychology books aside and look for answers elsewhere. In this blog-post we visit the film, music, comedy and art festival, North By North East to see what we might see. NXNE was stoked to host Richard Linklater’s 12-years-in-the-making, Boyhoodwith Ethan Hawke and Patricia Arquette (June 14th, 2014). It was set for theatrical release in July. We are introduced to Lorelei Linklatter who plays sister/daughter, “Samantha,” and Ellar Coltrane (pictured) as son/brother “Mason.” The story follows two kids from a broken home. The movie is filmed with the same actors over a series of shoots spanning twelve years—the boyhood of Mason who grows from age six to eighteen before our movie-viewing eyes. Rotten Tomatoes fans treat this three-hour epic a better than nine out of ten rating.
Honestly, my first impression (reaction) was that while Boyhood is a movie of heart-warming moments, I felt that guilt. That guilt is the white, male developed world privilege guilt that comes from passively nodding along with another Hollywood movie whereby female roles are props that support a well crafted male character’s tale. Why wasn’t the movie called, Childhood? Wasn’t the experience happening to the boy the same for the girl over twelve years?
Director Maximón Monihan, was in Toronto for NXNE to screen La Voz de los Silenciados (The Voice of the Voiceless). Having seen Boyhood for the second time, he offered me these clues. “Linklater is a bit of a jock so maybe he is isn’t as comfortable writing female parts. Maybe he just writes what we knows best. And the girl was played by his daughter so maybe he thought it would be gauche to portray her character in a more dramatic way.” Still, I thought, making a movie over 12 years, you get all the second chances you could ever dream of. What was I missing? I followed the markers in the story and it took me until the next morning to add them all together.
Setting aside my guilty conscience, I came to see that this is a movie about male-hood. Manhood is a hard role to pull off with unanimous approval. Ethan Hawke’s character was a boy-father, under-developed and finding himself on the wrong side of the Patricia Arquette character’s underwhelmed report card. He became the classic absentee father. He returns to his kids’ lives but is unwelcome in the role of second-chance husband. He becomes Disneyland-dad, doing what he can to enrich his kids’ lives with encouragement, camping, roughhousing, bowling and important talks. Hawke’s character is still chasing the dream of a singer/songwriter, resisting the sell-out of a paper-pushing day job. Still, he takes some courses, gets his actuarial license and settles into a job with an insurance company because, “life is expensive.”
Arquette’s character introduces the audience to a small parade of second and third choice father-figure partners that go from Prince Charming to over-controlling drunkard over a series of scenes. As with the lead male characters, none of the males in the movie ever ace the role of manhood in the eyes of those whose judgment matters. The male characters are more akin to aging boyhood. It’s a movie of tragic flaws. Like the Goldilocks story, everyone’s too rigid or too chaotic—no one’s just right. It’s a movie of donkeys chasing carrots they never get to taste. It’s a taste of real-life.
Boyhood is a movie about the days in the life of a boy, looking for clues from what promises remain from the American dream. As a sociology project it is all this and more. We explore the incompleteness and imperfection of our own humanity. The audience is complicit, watching with the same lofty expectations of manhood. In an era of super-hero movies this ain’t one of them. The movie poster is so obvious—once the penny drops. We see a boy looking at his father through a magnifying glass—how cute; how telling.
As a first run movie it will do what it does; I wish it all the success. As a lesson in sociology, this film will have the shelf life of a Catcher in the Rye or Gulliver’s Travels. The kids grow into adults in this movie, learning their lessons from both mom and dad. Hawke’s character grows into the man—the father—that Arquette wanted him to be. Ethan Hawke played a guitar pickin’ songwriter who must have had some appeal to Arquette’s character for the purposes of breeding, didn’t meet the standard from her expectation as a provider. How could he grow up and be a songwriter at the same time?
The movie is called Boyhood because it is as much about Hawke’s character’s perpetual boyhood, as it is about Mason’s evolution. Parenthood is something we catch up to; we don’t prepare for it. Manhood comes as boyhood wanes but without the clarity of values and purpose that we expect. Hawke’s great fatherly
advice comes with love and humor throughout the move. Later in the flick, as Mason is learning to drive, we are treated to this pithy philosophy for life. “Be aware of three cars ahead and two behind you. Remember, it takes two bad drivers to cause an accident.”
Vann “Piano Man” Walls was a composer/piano player working for Atlantic Records. Walls song credits are legendary even if he never became a household name. The documentary follows Walls’ history, the story of African American (Race music) musicians and includes cameos by Ry Cooder, Johnny Winter and Leon Russell. Vann "Piano Man" Walls - The Spirit of R&B
This gothic comedy out of the UK is a tale of an accidental serial killer born of black-comedic clumsiness. It’s quirky; it’s worth; it's called Whoops!
Let’s Ruin It is the tale of the RVIP Lounge, a mobile karaoke bar and the people who keep the party going. NXNE was the international debut for the movie. Kestrin Pantera, the writer, director and star is no stranger to Toronto as she has been a cellist for Beck, Weezer and emerging indie rock bands. See a trailer to Lets Ruin It With Babies
Riot on the Dance Floor is a must see as part of any music enthusiasts rock 'n' roll education about Do-It-Yourself work ethic. This story of Randy Now and City Garden (Trenton NJ) is a seminal expose of how punks and metal heads pioneered the music scene of the 21st century. Nirvana, Dead Kennedys, D.O.A., But Hole Surfers, Ween, R.E.M. The Ramones and Black Flag all played there.
You don't have to into the band or the scene to appreciate this story of sex, drugs, rock 'n' roll, the consequences and the compulsion that drives both addiction and creativity.
The Uncluded is an American alternative hip hop group, formed by rapper Aesop Rock and singer-songwriter Kimya Dawson. Their animated video Organs considers the painful process of grief and grace surrounding organ donation. See Organs HERE
Director and musician (Hot Panda) Chris Connelly had two quirky animated shorts at NXNE. Two back up dancers from the Van Halen video for “Panama” reunite 30 years later, only to find out that their lives have gone in two very different directions. See Panama trailer.
Actor Ryan Beil attempts to get into the Guinness Book of World Records by listing all twenty two Canadian Prime Ministers in three seconds. See the entire The Prime Minister Challenge.
Read, view or print as a PDF For 30 years, Toronto has celebrated lesbian, gay, bisexual, transsexual & queer (LGBTQ) Pride. This year, Toronto was host to Word Pride. According to the World Pride Toronto website the full diversity of celebrants June 22 to 29th, 2014 is an estimated attendance of over 1.2 million people honoring the history, courage, diversity and future of Toronto’s (and the world’s) LGBTTIQQ2SA communities. The full acronym includes: Lesbian, Gay, Bisexual, Transsexual, Transgender, Intersex, Queer/Questioning, 2 Spirited, Allies.[i]
What can 12-Step based societies learn from World Pride? Are we ahead of or behind the curve in terms of inclusivity and anti-discrimination? Let’s have a look. Over 100 same-sex couples, who came to Toronto for World Pride, got legally hitched while they were here because same-sex marriages aren’t recognized where they live. Lesbian Premier of Ontario (Y’all have Governors of States; we have Premiers of Provinces), Kathleen Wynne, was out for the parade. What’s so civilized about Canadian politics is an extension of what is healthy about Canadian society. Our heads of state are not subject to narrow questions like, “What’s going to be different for Ontario with a queer Premier?” or “How does being a lesbian affect your policy making?” Premier Wynne was grilled about her policies and service record in the recent election but I don’t remember any member of the media asking her about her sexuality. After all, they don’t ask other politicians what they do in the bedrooms or back alleys of our nation.
The Pride Parade finished just before a summer storm hit Toronto and Pride concluded in the streets of Toronto, graced by a rainbow that stretched across the sky.
That’s what a harassment-free, discrimination-free society can look like; within the society, people are sexually diverse but neither right nor wrong. We are straight but not narrow,LGBTQ—out, closeted or discreet if you prefer. Be proud or conflicted. Neither is abnormal and neither is reserved for any gender identification or sexual orientation bias. Toronto Ontario Canada isn’t in a state of happy-ever-after. There is still discrimination, harassment and issues that deserve attention and compassion. To many who visited here last week, Toronto is a breath of fresh air. “To come from such a conservative city where we live in Erie, to here where it is such an amazing, amazing display of people and humanity,” Kathy Czarnecki-Smith told CBC News.[ii]
World Pride week got me thinking about what diversity and inclusion can look like. It’s all fine and good to have someone from AA say, “This is Joe from the Beyond Belief group—you know—that group for atheists and agnostics.” Why not just say, “This is Joe from the Beyond Belief group”? Every designated other through AA history has gone through it: she’s an alcoholic—how shameful; We’d like to help the negro alcoholic but we have our reputation to think of; He’s an alcoholic but he’s so young; Pete’s an addict; who can blame him, being gay and all. That is a slice of real life in our 75 year history. So why should AA members with a natural, not a supernatural, worldview be any different? In tribes, like AA or any other subcultures, the majority marginalize the minority, be it intentional or systemic? Today, typical statements towards members who reject the sobriety-granting God idea, include, “How do you stay sober without God? That sounds like a dry-drunk. Keep coming honey, you’ll get it eventually.”
A highlight at the 1985 World Conference of Alcoholics Anonymous in Montreal, was a talk given by Barry L about our Traditions and great strides made between AA and our relationship with the LGBTQ community. At a gay and lesbian meeting, attended by about one thousand members, Barry recalls, “We weren’t in closets; we were sealed in vaults.” Barry L was making light of when he got sober 40 years earlier, when AA was in our early years and homosexuals were considered to be sexual deviants. In 1945 there was no Gay Pride. There was secrecy. Our Third Tradition suggests to members and groups who can join Alcoholics Anonymous. Membership is not granted; it is an inherent right to anyone with a desire to stop drinking. Twelve Steps and Twelve Traditions (The 12 & 12) presents 24 essays by Bill W about our Steps and Traditions. In the essay on Tradition Three, “The only requirement for A.A. membership is a desire to stop drinking,” there are three examples that tested our seemingly reckless inclusivity in the early years. There is the story of a man whom Bill called “Ed.” We know this to be loosely Jim B’s story—the defiant atheist who thought AA would be better without all this God malarkey. He offended many members who wanted him out. And they were about to cast out the one for the betterment of the many. The story goes as follows:
The elders led Ed aside. They said firmly, “You can’t talk like this around here. You’ll have to quit it or get out.” With great sarcasm Ed came back at them. “Now do tell: Is that so?” He reached over to a bookshelf and took up a sheaf of papers. On top of them lay the Foreword to the book Alcoholics Anonymous, then under preparation. He read aloud, “The only requirement for A.A. membership is a desire to stop drinking.” Relentlessly, Ed went on, “When you guys wrote that sentence, did you mean it, or didn’t you?”
Dismayed, the elders looked at one another, for they knew he had them cold. So, Ed stayed.[iii]
Ed, or Jim B., not only stayed but he helped establish AA in both Baltimore and Philadelphia. He lived sober, outliving both official cofounders. In the 12 & 12, there is a second story of a sexual deviant who sought refuge in Akron AA. In a talk Bill gave at his 35th year of continuous sobriety, he expands on this Third Tradition story:
For example, a fellow came to Dr. Bob and said, “I’m an alcoholic; here is my history. But I also have this other ‘complication.’ Can I join A.A.?” Bob threw it out to all the other deacons, while the poor guy waited.
Finally, there was some kind of hearing on it among the self-appointed elders. I remember how perfectly Bob put it to them. He reminded us that most of us were practicing Christians. Then he asked, “What would the Master have thought? Would He have kept this man away?” . . . The man came in, was prodigious worker, and was one of our most respected people. So, out of antecedents like this one, our Third Tradition was born: that any person having a drinking problem—if he says so—is entitled to join A.A., and nobody can deny him this right. This, indeed, is a great irony—enormous freedom welling up out of grief and slavery to the bottle.”[iv]
Imagine asking the question, “What members or groups would Jesus have us exclude from AA?” That’s the standard Dr. Bob asked the God-fearing deacons to measure their actions by.
Another story is told from Barry L’s firsthand account as he was answering the phone and minding the door to the 41st Street (AA) clubhouse. In Barry’s 1985 talk[v], he recalls:
One of the chores you could do is answering the phone, sitting at the desk and greeting visitors. One day a policeman on the corner sent in to see us, a black man. That in itself was unusual in Manhattan in 1945. We had no black AA members then; we did not really start seeing black members in AA until 1946. But the black man came in and he had long blonde hair, a-la Veronica Lake. He was also a master cosmetician. He was a wonder with a brush on his face. He was absolutely beautiful. Strapped to his back were all his worldly belongings. He said he was just released from prison and he needed help. He began to tell us his problems. Among other things, he was homosexual and he was a dope-fiend. . . I asked a number of the older members who had been around for some time “what should I do?” and they all left. No all, I shouldn’t say that. One dear old soul—a gal named Fanny—stayed and really tried to help the man.
But she didn’t get too far; she didn’t really know the answer to this so I thought I would call the man who had been sober the longest. So I put some coffee down for the man and I called Bill. I told him the story, “We don’t really know what to do, he needs all kinds of help. Bill listened and then he was quiet for a few moments and then Bill said, “Did you say this man is a drunk?” Oh yes, we could all tell that, instantly. “Well,” said Bill, “then I think that’s the only question we have any right to ask.” (Thunderous applause from the Montreal audience).
Montreal Canada hosted the 1985 World Conference of Alcoholics Anonymous
Also, when Barry was almost a year sober, he tells the story of how three AA women took him to lunch to talk with Bill about the ideas of special groups for gays and for lesbians. Barry recalls that Bill said that this could be the best thing to come down the pipe, but he wasn’t sure. Could Barry come and see him again when he was 18 months sober? At that time Bill thought both Barry and he could think about the matter more. Barry never did return to have that talk because by the time he was 18 months sober, there were so many gays and lesbians it hardly seemed necessary.
Under the employ of Alcoholics Anonymous, Barry was a staff writer. He wrote Living Sober and the pamphlet Do You Think You’re Different? He also recorded the General Service Conference and wrote the General Service Conference Report. By the early 1970s there were many groups/meetings for gays and lesbians. Barry tells the story of this significant crossroad:
It was my job in 1973 and 1974 to write the Conference Report and those were the two years that the question of listing lesbian and gay groups arose.
That came about from some pressure from some wonderful people in Southern California. All kinds of wonderful things come out of Southern California. They wanted to list themselves as gay groups or lesbian groups and the General Service Office, of course, has a very ticklish job. They really shouldn’t do anything that hasn’t been done before, without direction from the General Service Conference. So, they brought it to the Conference to decide and it was debated in 1973 to some hot length and finally the chair, getting very smart, said, “I think we’ll table the question to next year.” But that put it on the agenda for next year so everyone knew about it and it would have to be settled the next year.
If you don’t know what the General Service Conference is, ask your sponsor. The Conference has absolutely no power over any of us—not one bit. It has the power of example, it has some moral authority, but that’s all. The Conference does not like to do anything by halves or even by bare majority. The Conference proceeds generally on almost complete unanimity.
So in 1974, in the Conference, the question went back and forth, back and forth for two days and two nights. Much of the agenda was wiped out. I remember one man said, “If you are going to list the sex deviants this year, next year you’ll list the rapist [groups].” Someone else said something like if you’re going to list this kind of deviant, what other type of deviant are you going to list?
The delegate from one of the Northern States—or maybe it was a Canadian Province, I am not sure—was a delightful woman about three feet tall and she went to one of the middle microphones. She pulled the microphone down to her mouth and said, “Where I come from, alcoholics are considered deviants. (Laughter and cheering from the audience)
The debate went on but when the vote came that night, only two voted against it. It was almost unanimous; I think it was 129 to two.
January 20, 1961, in the presidential inauguration, John F. Kennedy referred to the American Constitution of a century and three quarters prior, stating that human rights were not granted by the generosity of the state but from all mighty God. I imagine Bill W, like many US citizens, listened to, or may have even seen—JFK being the first every TV presidency—this speech. One could imagine AA’s founders reflected on the structure of our fellowship as a society. Ours is a society whereby rights and freedoms are expected. AA protects the rights of members and groups through servitude—not leadership or governance.
It isn’t lost on me that, constitutionally, my rights as an unbeliever are granted by God. What is meant by this? To suggest that if one denies God, one would forgo their human rights bestowed by Him is narrow, if not flawed reasoning. Human rights must be respected by one another. Basic human rights to dignity and freedom are beyond the scrutiny of others. So while atheists ought to respect a believer’s right to worship, the believers ought to respect the freethinker’s right to govern themselves in accordance to their own conscience.
In Canada, as in the USA, everyone has the rights and freedoms of conscience, religion, thought, belief, expression, peaceful assembly and association. Bringing it back to our AA fellowship, these rights that are beyond challenge of critical finger pointers are bestowed upon members and our groups.
We have discussed the individual and how our history shows that, when faced with others that are unfamiliar to us, while our instinct is to marginalize, our Traditions has taught us to embrace our differences. This is especially reinforced by Tradition Three.
What about our groups? Consider the subtle message within Tradition Five, “Our primary purpose of every A.A. group is to carry its message to the alcoholic who still suffers." The key is in the word “its message—not “the message” or “our message” but each group’s message. And how does each group determine its message? Tradition Two and Four celebrates the autonomy and authority of group conscience. Each group can outline their own message.
A muckers or back-to-basics group’s message is that hope and recovery comes through the working of the Twelve Steps, done in a certain way, over a certain time-frame. Other groups don’t even read the (suggested) Twelve Steps at their meeting. That may give the message that fellowship—the sharing and caring of fellow members—is the secret sauce of contented recovery. So young people’s groups, women’s groups, nonbelievers meetings or LGBTQ groups don’t all talk a uniformed talk or offer exactly the same brand of AA hope. Some AA groups don’t bat an eye at talk of drugs (as well as drinking) while others kick up an “outside issue” fuss if you discuss smoking pot or prescription drug misuse. Some meetings include prayer in the formalities. Atheist and Agnostic groups tend to see its AA message as a more secular solution.
AA accommodates and includes new groups, be they special interest or general purpose. Regardless of how or why a new group starts, a collective voice is found and a message of hope is expressed.
What we find at Pride is the celebration of, instead of the narcissism of, small differences. Everyone comes together to celebrate our diverse culture and not to scapegoat or ridicule others for their uniqueness. Sure, Monday comes and many of us will fall back in with our tribe. It’s no crime to seek the company of like-minded people. But the point is we came together and we will again. Without shouting out our tenets of honesty, open-mindedness and willingness, the variety of celebrants that come and sing and dance to “We are Family” at Pride celebrations all around the world should inspire us in AA.
We have a living program, and an evolving fellowship that, through a spirited language says we are AA members and groups—not all the same, but all equal and all united.
Read, print or share as a PDF I am a sample of recovery; I am not an example. I hear ya, “Come on Joe, you’re playing the semantics game, again. You’re not going to write a whole blog on it, are you?” Hear me out. What I am saying is this: isn’t it enough to show that it can work, without laying claim to how it works? If it works for me, it can work for you; if it works for her, it can work for him.
Our Declaration of Unity was unveiled at the Miami Beach International Convention of AA in 1970: This we owe A.A.’s future: To place our common welfare first; to keep our Fellowship united. For on A.A. unity depends our lives, and the lives of those to come.
There are many samples of recovery that every new member can draw upon to forge their own salvation. We need not adopt the uniformity of zombies; no one should need to shoehorn themselves into someone else’s solution. In the rooms we find many people working individual programs of recovery—not everyone working an identical program. Some of these individual programs are in tune with the suggested Steps while others reject them completely.
Samples of sample definitions include (www.Merriam-Webster.com “a small amount of something that gives you information about the thing it was taken from” or better yet (www.MathIsFun.com) “A selection taken from a larger group so that you can examine it to find out something about the larger group.” In the same way a Psychology test mines a random sample, I like to include myself as being within an extreme range of possibilities in sobriety, more than I like to be emulated as a power of example.
I say again that I believe that the role of a new member’s inner circle in recovery is to help her or him find their salvation—not indoctrinate them into our brand of salvation—a new person should observe many samples of recovery from an ample pool of addicts to help formulate their own plan for sobriety. By the (big) book, “How It Works” is by implementation of the Twelve Steps of Alcoholics Anonymous. John Lauritsen, in his new book,A Freethinker in Alcoholics Anonymous says “Not so fast!”
“The Fellowship and the 24-hour Plan are the pillars of Alcoholics Anonymous. ... there is great freedom in A.A., both for the group and the individual. In my 46 years of sobriety I have always been able to find groups with a maximum of Fellowship and minimum of religiosity.[i]"
John reminds us that the suggestedSteps is another way of saying the optional Steps. They violate his creed and core beliefs so he never worked the Steps. John explains why he disagrees with the powerlessness premise. The concept of an intervening deity has never proven in life or in AA. Forget morality; while the Step Four idea of taking inventory isn’t a bad idea, as John sees it, alcoholism isn’t brought about by moral defects. Alcoholism causes moral compromise—not the other way around.
John credits his success, which he describes as social, physical, financial and intellectual recovery to what he calls, “real A.A.” According to what John has observed in AA since 1968, what works is the 24-hour program, the Fellowship’s mutual-aid environment and a determined mantra of “If you get run over by a train, don’t blame the caboose for killing you; stay away from the first drink.”
The dogmatic preaching of the Twelve Steps is what John calls “false AA.” It’s not because he thinks the Steps don’t work; he accepts the claims of many that, for them, the Twelve Steps have been life altering. However, in A Freethinker in Alcoholics Anonymous, the argument is made that there are some premises about the Steps that are born of AA mythology and not our actual history. One myth is that this is exactly how the first 100 members got sober.
The early members had an oral tradition before we codified it into 164 pages. Most members who were Step oriented had a six-step process which varied from member to member and region to region. The Twelve Steps were new to these (mostly sober) members when they read Bill’s version of Chapter 5, “How it Works.” Some liked them, some objected. It was a tough sell for Bill to get the members to adopt the Steps and it was hardly unanimous. As John writes:
“Whether the Steps are helpful, harmful or both, it is intolerable that they should become sacred dogma. Everyone should be free to criticize or reject the Steps—openly, and without risk of ostracism. Every A.A. member and every A.A. group should be free to reinterpret and re-write the Steps, in line with the principles of the A.A. Preamble and the Twelve Traditions. The True A.A., the Fellowship, belongs to us freethinkers as much as it does to the god-people.”[ii]
John’s books describes AA as a Fellowship of two million members all working their own unique “program” that we have quilted together in part from ideas and practices we learn from the sharing and encouragement we get in the rooms and, in part, from the values and practices we bring to or develop in recovery.
So, John L is a sample of recovery. Anyone from the rooms or the treatment industry ought to read his book to better understand AA’s wide tent. He is candid about his ideas of what could make AA better. One need not adopt his views, but we would be remiss to not hear how he came to these conclusions. John exemplifies, as many in AA do, that physical, social and mental recovery are all possible without adherence to a deity, the powerlessness notion or the idea that defects of character are correlated to substance or process addiction.
Mantras for newcomers from early AA: A pickle never becomes a cucumber again; once an alcoholic, always an alcoholic. If you get run over by a train, it’s not the caboose that kills you; it’s not that last drink that’s to blame – it’s the first drink that gets us.
I came here a drug addict who also drank compulsively. Alcohol wasn't a drug of choice over any of the others—it was good enough. I generally identify as an alcoholic. I freely talk about drugs if it fits into the story I am telling but I don't talk a lot about the past in meetings, in part because my greatest hurdles in life were to come after my last drink. In AA, sober, I had two kids from two moms and my infidelity was a contributor to both of those breakups. Herpes and HIV came after "the gift of the 12 Steps." The same is true with my financial bankruptcy; that was a gift of sobriety. I have compulsive eating working and hoarding tendencies that concern me at times. I was in jail five years sober for non-payment of speeding tickets. Somehow, I thought powered-by-AA gave me an exception to life’s rules; the Royal Canadian Mounted Police disagreed.
Mine is no conference talk about the socio-economic upward trend from day-one of sobriety through to present day. Some consider me an "example" of decades of sobriety. I call myself a sample, not an example. I don't have what everyone wants, nor do I want to have what everyone wants. I want to live my flawed, incomplete life without the pressure of other people looking up to me. Others can look and they can learn all they want. I live by my values. Sure, much of what forged these values was the lessons learned in the rooms. But I feel no obligation to be “on” or a power of example.
I champion radical inclusion and I speak out against what-you-need-to-do-ism. “My way is the best way” chatter is, what Ernie Kurtz calls spiritual arrogance—an oxymoron if I ever saw one. In his recent book, co-authored with Katherine Ketcham, Experiencing Spirituality: Finding Meaning Through Storytelling, a story of grandiosity or a sense of superiority is told:
“‘Playing God’ can happen in small ways, for example in the ever-present temptation to seek an edge, gain some privilege: A car accident occurred in a small town. A crowd surrounded the victim so a newspaper reporter couldn’t get close enough to see him. He hit upon an idea. ‘I’m the father of the victim!’ he cried. ‘Please let me through.’ The crowd let him pass so he was able to get right up to the scene of the accident and discover, to his embarrassment, that the victim was a donkey.”[iii]
Instant-karma, where the principle character immediately sees that his arrogance made him out to look like an ass to everyone else, isn’t always the case. Years of reinforcement can encourage those in the rooms who hold themselves out as the bishops and cardinals of The AA Way, compounding their arrogance and belligerence. This dynamic makes for what we see in some quarters of 12 & 12 Fellowships, an air of polarizing platitudes espoused by bullies that make those with doubt, critical thinking and alternate views look for the exits or alternatively, emotionally close down—becoming closet skeptics.
No one should feel that what they have to say about addiction and recovery is unfit for an AA meeting or any Twelve Step meeting for that matter. We are all samples, from the most devote servant of Yahweh to the boldest reductionist, we all have standing and we are all united.
I will close with some reflections offered by Bernard Smith, one of our early non-alcoholic Trustees and AA’s first Chair of The General Service Board (originally known as the Alcoholic Foundation). Bern authored the Bylaws of the General Service Board, adopted by AA in 1957. Smith’s Miami talk on Unity and Continuity in July of 1970 would be the last we would hear of Bernard Smith. He died the following month of a heart attack. Bill W was dying himself and could not make Bern’s funeral. He sent a tribute that would be read by another AA member. In this tribute Bill W gives thanks.
“Bern made a remarkable and inspiring talk to some 11,000 of our members gathered in Miami Beach to celebrate our Fellowship’s 35th anniversary. The subject of his talk was ‘Unity’ – truly an apt subject, for no man did more than he to assure unity within our Fellowship. For that matter, he did much to assure our very survival, for he was one of the principle architects of the General Service Conference. Bern Smith would not want, nor does he need, encomiums from me. What he has done for Alcoholics Anonymous speaks far louder than any words of mine could ever do. His wisdom and vision will be sorely missed by us all.”
Here are some of the timeless worlds from Bern Smith’s speech. The demonstrate to me that all of us samples of recovery have standing and add value—to each other, now and for the still suffering alcoholic who has not yet reached our doors.
“Perhaps no time in history has this land of ours been so torn by dissention, by divisiveness, by mistrust. Yet we are here in convention assembled as if on an island of unity in a world sea of disunity. What we seek now and will forever seek in the future is not to find unity, for we how have it, but rather steadily and unceasingly to insure that our precious unity will remain in continuity of all time. Now, you may have observed that the title of my talk this evening is ‘Unity and Continuity.’ The word ‘unity’ is variously defined. I have chosen as the definition applicable to our Fellowship that which reads: ‘the quality or state of being or consisting of one, a totality of related parts.’ For, indeed, we are assembled here this evening as a true totality of related parts… Slowly and painstakingly, we have built upon the spiritual foundation of this great Society a structure that, I believe, can with continued devotion insulate this Fellowship against the ravages of time, of dissent, of materialistic decay… Alcoholics Anonymous does not claim any monopoly on the achievement of sobriety. While sobriety is indeed the end we seek, the means by which we attain it render this Fellowship unique. We believe, as Aldous Huxley said in his End and Means: ‘Our personal experience and the study of history make it abundantly clear that the means whereby we try to achieve something are at least as important as the end we wish to attain. Indeed, they are even more important. For the means employed inevitably determine the nature of the result achieved.’ Our message to society is not so much that we have succeeded in ceasing to drink, but that, by the nature of the means we employ, we have found a way to fulfill our lives. We do not acquire sobriety through the use of chemical formula or a powerful drug. We achieve it by applying to our daily lives the simple tenets of humility, honesty, devotion, love and compassion.”[iv]
Bernard Smith’s talk suggests to me that AA’s tents are universal principles that transcend language, creed and personal experience or taste. The means can be various and the end the same. We hear, “Go to enough meetings and you’ll hear your story.” The felling that comes from that experience is that we are no longer alone. That feeling is very empowering—very healing. Let’s hope that we can continue to celebrate the variety of AA experiences. Every sample and every example matters for any society with the legacies of recovery, unity and service.