Episode 124: Step Three

Step Three, in its original form reads as “Made a decision to turn our will and our lives over to the care of God as we understood Him.” The words “God” and “Him” lead many nonbelievers to disregard this stop altogether. However, is there a more practical way to view this step? In this episode Angela and John take a secular view of a step which is essentially the experience of making a decision or commitment to change. 


00:00 John: This is episode 124 of AA Beyond Belief.


00:23 John: In this episode, Angela and I will discuss Step Three: “Made a decision to turn our will and our lives over to the care of God as we understood him.” Uh-oh. Okay, Angela, we’re here to do step three, so I guess we have to turn our will and our lives over to the care of God and pray together.


00:43 Angela: In a coffee shop or on our knees, yeah. Yeah. I can’t imagine doing that. Oh, my gosh.

00:52 John: Well, I did do that.

00:54 Angela: Wow.

00:55 John: What’s really funny though is it seems like this is the step that people have the hardest time… And I would say non-believers or secular people, have the hardest time figuring out because the emphasis is always on God. Right? 

01:07 Angela: Right.

01:08 John: Obviously because they’re turning their will and life over to the care of God. But even when I was going to my traditional meetings, they even put the emphasis on making a decision.

01:17 Angela: Right.

01:18 John: And that’s how I actually see the step, and I’ve always seen it that way. Even in the old days when I was doing my religious kind of thing, I always saw as just a decision. I had a lot of self-talk going on when I was going to meetings for all that time. On the outside, I would be talking God but, on the inside, I’d be translating it in some way that really made sense to me. Isn’t that bizarre? 

01:43 Angela: Yeah, I think we have to. But yeah, it’s interesting that there was a definite disconnect. Were you aware of the disconnect at the time? 

01:52 John: No.

01:52 Angela: Or is it something later that you’re like, “Oh, yeah, I realize I was… “

01:55 John: I wasn’t.

01:56 Angela: Wow.

01:57 John: And I’d become troubled by my past. It’s like, what was going on with me for all that time? But you know, I don’t want to overanalyze it because when I look back, it’s like, “Okay, life was… My life is good. Things are going good.” It wasn’t like any harm was done and it’s like outside the meeting, I had all these great friends, and it was just that I had to learn how to do the AA talk during the meeting.

02:21 Angela: Right.

02:22 John: And I guess I got so good at it; I didn’t even realize what I was doing.

02:25 Angela: Right. Yeah, I’ve had that experience, too. I can’t remember what it was, I was going to bring it up, but it was something like an AA saying, AA speak of some sort and then I stopped myself, I’m like, “Why am I saying that? That makes absolutely no sense at all.” And I think it was the… No, somebody else said that everything happens for a reason and so I went down a long thing of that because that’s not what I think anymore, and haven’t for a long time, but it’s something that’s said quite often in meetings. So, anyway, yeah, when I’m looking at the step, I think here, it is a lot about God. There are some meetings where they go into the decision and they do that analogy about the frog sitting on a log. Do you guys have that one? 

03:19 John: Oh, god! Yeah, yes, yes. I thought that was unique to Kansas City.

03:24 Angela: No, no. Do you want to share what it is? Do you…

03:27 John: Okay. So, okay, it’s like, you got three frogs sitting on a log and one frog decides to jump. How many frogs are on the log? 

03:34 Angela: Three.

03:35 John: Because literally decided to jump, right? 

03:37 Angela: Right. So anyway…

03:40 John: That stops me every time I would hear it. Damn! I could never think of that.


03:42 Angela: I know, I know. So yeah, we have that. And so, that’ll be brought up every once in a while. But for me, I recall, and I’ve seen over the years, that it seems like three within the rooms is where there’s an expectation of it that you’re going to get serious about it, particularly if you’re secular or atheist or agnostic, that okay, three is when you got to get your shit together and figure out something. And so yeah, for me I remember looking at it and one, the Him was a big deal to me. So yeah, I don’t think that everybody looks at it. I think a lot of secular people see God but then I think a lot of us women are like Him.

04:27 John: Of course, I went into an all men’s group.

04:29 Angela: Yeah. I remember like, God and Him.

04:32 John: We were fine with it.

04:33 Angela: Yeah, God and Him. Oh, nice. It was like, “Oh, wow, how are we going to get through this one?” because with one pretty straightforward, yeah, I have an issue with alcohol. And then two, okay, power greater than me, I can go a lot of different directions with that. But then, yeah, this one is really both the God and the Him is like wow and so, I think it’s a very difficult one for secular people. But yeah, I tried a lot of different things. I really wanted to have some sort of a higher power that outdid all of the other ones and so, I think about it, I’m like, “Well, does Buddha outdo Jesus? And should I look at this Mohammad thing? What’s the hierarchy?” And I really liked in college studied some religious history and different religions, and I really liked Kalima, the Hindu goddess of destruction. She’s pictured where she’s standing on, I think Vishnu’s neck and she’s wearing a necklace of severed men’s heads and I’m like, if I could believe in a deity, that definitely would be the one for me. It just seems perfect. But going through it, the truth was, is that I just didn’t believe in some sort of omnipotent being that makes choices and grants parking spaces and does all of that kind of stuff. It doesn’t make sense to me. And one of the things I heard a lot in the rooms was that when it comes between you and the drink, you better have a higher power type thing and I’m like, “Well, if I don’t believe in this, then that’s not going to be very helpful to me.” You know? 

06:23 John: Yeah. That’s when I finally realized I needed to get out because there was a meeting where it was like, “Someday the time will come where no human power can keep you from drinking and you will have to… ” And I said, “No, that’s not true,” and oh, boy. Didn’t go well.

06:37 Angela: Yep, yep. I’ve heard that quite a bit as well. And oftentimes, it’s when somebody’s talking about they’re coming to terms with this and trying to figure things out and that right now the group or their sponsor, or something like that they’re using as a higher power. And so then some deacon from the back will say, “Well, there’ll come a time when it’s… ” And it like invokes the images of Satan hiding behind a bush going to jump out and get you, and I really don’t find that helpful in my recovery. [laughter] So I do think of things in that way. But most of the time when people are talking in meetings about God and this step, I just imagine Santa Claus and that it just seems so odd to me. So yeah, so that didn’t work out, that wasn’t my path for understanding the third step.

07:34 Angela: I was chatting with my sponsor the other night about my work and thinking about this step and how to talk about it and she reminded me there was a circuit speaker that used to go around Patty O from California, and she came to Boise a couple of times doing one of those… The Steps Come Alive is what they call it, where it’s like an all-day conference where one person, usually a circuit speaker, will talk about the steps, break them down, kind of like we’re doing for the podcast but they do it in an all-day thing. And she was definitely a God person, I mean her son, who is my age, was the featured speaker at Wake PA last January and he was godding all over the place.

08:23 John: Godding.

08:24 Angela: Godding, yeah. Everything was God, this God that, and so I call it godding all over the place. And so she definitely was a God person, but when she came to this step in the workshop, she talked about that God wasn’t her higher power for the steps and particularly this step because if she thought about God as being her higher power for step three, and that if she sat around on the couch asking God to strike her sober, she’d still be sitting on a couch with a glass of wine. And so, for her, she said that for step three, that AA is what she turned her will and her life over. So, to the program, to working the steps, to during service, all of that kind of stuff. And that’s what I think about it most of the time. I mean, if somebody asks me, that’s what… From within AA, that’s what I say. Now it’s a little bit different on what I think it is to me, but mainly that’s the gist of it. And so, that was kind of cool for me to talk to and remember that, yeah, that is what she said and that a God person as I think of her would have the same tool or would think of step three in the same way.

09:39 Angela: So yeah, so I think it’s interesting that that can happen within the AA culture, and it is what works for me. So, yeah. Another thing that I was looking at from the Secular Guide, the Alternative 12 steps: A Secular Guide, one of the things they wrote was that in order to physically let go, we have to consciously relax our muscles and allow the chattering in our minds to stop. And that psychologically, we deliberately relax our mental grip on belief or on whatever the belief is we’re troubled with. And I thought about that, and that helped me too. I’m like, “Yeah, I can really visualize myself letting go of the mental grip of whatever is spinning in my head or the will as a negative. I really don’t think that will is a bad thing. I don’t think most of the stuff that sometimes gets described as negative in our program are bad, I think they’re just different tools that I’m using in the wrong way. But yeah, I really liked the analogy there or the comparison, I guess, that physically, we have to relax our muscles to let go. And my brain is a pretty powerful muscle and so, if I think about it as a way that, okay, I need to relax the grip I have on whatever it is, then that’s helpful to me.

10:58 John: So, I’ve been thinking about this a little bit. I’ve read that book, I talked about it last few times, but I’ve been reading a lot on Staying Sober Without God. And so, he looks at this as just making a commitment to adopt a healthy lifestyle basically, which is why he sees recovery as just adopting a healthy lifestyle for the rest of your life, which makes sense to me, it’s a very positive thing. And that’s basically what I was doing, I was like, “I need to change, I need to change something. And it’s not just my drinking that needs to change. I need to change and grow as a person, I guess.” So, I made a decision to do that, but what I was thinking about is, when I was in traditional AA, and I’m not going to say this is right or wrong. But there was a huge focus on self-centeredness with the step. And it was beat into me to such a degree, Angela, you would not believe it. I still have passages in The Big Book memorized in my brain about selfishness, self-centeredness that we think is a river of troubles blah blah blah.

11:50 Angela: Yeah, yeah.

11:51 John: It was beat, it was like, you know? And I’m looking back on that and I guess, okay, I don’t buy that now. But I guess at the time, it wasn’t… I mean, it forced me to look within myself, I guess. So, it was positive in that respect, but that was the first time that I ever thought of myself as being self-centered and it just gave me one more damn thing, I did not like about myself. You know? 

12:15 Angela: Right. Right.

12:17 John: So, I don’t know but if I see value in that, I don’t think it’s really necessary to see oneself as self-centered, running the show and everything. because that honestly wasn’t what I was doing, the show was running me. Anyways, that’s the way I did it back then. We were really focusing on the self-centeredness and so basically, what I was doing at that time was like, “Okay, I’m self-centered. I need to be not self-centered. I need to change. So that was basically it, and that’s what I needed to change about myself. But if I look at it now, to me, the step is just essentially that moment when I do make a commitment to change but it’s not necessarily that I’m going to change any one particular thing, it’s about myself, it’s just that I’m going to adopt a lifestyle of change where hopefully I’ll evolve and grow as a person. You know? 

13:04 Angela: Right.

13:05 John: That’s how I see it. I’ll work the steps if I want to do that.

13:07 Angela: Right. Right. Yeah, no, I got a lot of that too or that feeling. And I agree, I think it’s more of an active commitment or willingness to do the hard things, and look at the hard feelings, and go through that. There’s a lot of emphasis, it seems like, on step three in order to go into step four, at least in our area. It’s like, you need to have a good step three because around here, a lot of sponsors have people write the third step prayer at the top of their inventory on each page.

13:41 John: Oh, really? Wow.

13:42 Angela: Yeah.

13:43 John: That third step prayer has grown in popularity over the years.

13:46 Angela: It is super popular here. So, for a while, even meetings, we’re ending with that, some of that.

13:53 John: Yeah, they’re starting to do that around here too. At our area assembly, they think it’s great because it’s AA approved. But you know what, isn’t it weird to have an AA approved prayer? I think that’s odd.

14:03 Angela: Right. It is really odd. Well, and I wrote it down for those who aren’t aware of it, but it’s, “God, I offer myself to thee, to build with me and to do with me as thou wilt. Relieve me of the bondage of self that I may better do thy will. Take away my difficulties that victory over them may bear witness to those I would help of thy power, thy love, and thy way of life. May I do thy will always.” Yeah, it’s just like, wow! 

14:36 John: When you talk to God, you always have to say thy and thou.

14:38 Angela: Thy and thou, yeah. And then this is where the highlight on the negativity of self is, relieve me of the bondage of self. And yeah, I’m like, wow. So, I get the ego deflation part of it and I think in some ways it is important to take a look at that because oftentimes when we get here, we’re so caught up in our own misery that it’s hard for us to see the ways in which… I mean, we can name the ways that we hurt other people because we’re depressed about it usually. We’re like, “Oh, I heard that person, blah, blah, blah.” But we still have a hard time of seeing outside ourselves or different perspectives. And so, I think of this step a little bit as a reminder to me that there are other perspectives out there. And so, one of the things that my sponsor did with me, and I usually have people do, is to re-write this in an affirmation. And so, mine, the one that I’ve used the longest or most often is, Since I’m not the center of the universe, perhaps I can look for a way to be of service or simply show kindness to others, or contribute in a positive way to the betterment of society. And so, I have to have the perhaps in there because I get very oppositional and so I need to have the option of, that okay, if I want to. [chuckle] You know? 

16:09 John: Right. Right.

16:10 Angela: The thou will, and thee… All of that kind of stuff. No, that doesn’t work for me. So, having the option there. So I have perhaps in there, and it’s a way for me to reframe my intention for the day, if I wake up stuck in a circle of resentment or something like that, I use that as a way to, okay, what would I like today to be like? What would I like my general outlook and mindset to be like? And that’s usually what I want it to be is something along the lines of not circling on myself and my problems and whatever it is. So, enlarging the picture of what’s happening in the greater world because most of the time, my problem is my thinking about myself but it’s in a negative way. So yeah, I’ve done a lot on considering the self and I really don’t like within the rooms when people are like, “You need to get out of self.” Because I’ve found through my recovery and therapy that I actually needed to get in myself, that I needed to develop a healthy sense of self and what that means for me, and both within just my physical body because a lot of my trauma growing up had taking me to where sometimes I wouldn’t notice my legs or different parts of my body, they just, I didn’t think about them.

17:41 Angela: And then I go to yoga or to a meditation or something like that, or listen to one, and they’d say, “Okay, now relax your toes. And I wouldn’t know that my toes are all conscious and stuff like that and it’s because I’m so in my brain so much that sometimes I forget that I’m more than just my brain so for me, learning about myself and my body and how that works has been very helpful to me, and so I work a lot on that. Another way step three has talked about in the rooms is when somebody’s having a problem. So, I’ve mentioned circling a couple of times but often I hear somebody saying, that they’re going through some sort of difficulty, and somebody will say, “Well, have you done the third step on it? Or, have you said the third step prayer? Or what helps for me is because this is letting it go. Letting it go to God thing. And so how I use this or how I respond when I’m in traditional meetings or have somebody that works a traditional program that asks me about it is that I tend to turn whatever the problem is over to a different part of me, so either a different part of my brain or I think of the way I think of things is different parts and so…

19:06 Angela: Or like the committee that gets talked about a lot in the rooms as we all have these committees and for years I’ve thought about mine is more of a bureaucracy because I have committees and then I have subcommittees, and then I have tasks force. It’s a lot of stuff going on in there, and to give me to change an idea takes a lot of paperwork. So I think of it that way and I’ll imagine that it’s being tasked to an intern on a subcommittee or something and they have to go and do the research within the back of my brain for anything that would be helpful for helping me understand whatever this problem is or come to terms with something because sometimes there’s nothing I can do about it, but that’s what this little mental intern is off doing and that’s my way of letting it go is that I’m not ignoring it, because I see that a lot when people are like, “Well, I just let it go.” I was like, “Really? Wow.”

20:08 Angela: And usually is that they just stop thinking about it or ignoring it. So, I’m not doing that. I feel like I’m being active in that I’m letting it be taken care of from a different part of my brain. And then the subconscious, I really feel listens to all the stuff in meetings, even when I’m not necessarily paying attention or think something doesn’t apply to me, I’ve heard everything that’s been said in meetings and so sometimes it’ll come back to me if I give it a little bit of time and something somebody said from a meeting seven years ago, I’ll be like, “Oh, yeah, that person dealt with this problem and what was it that they did? And I can use that or if I’m still in contact with the person I can call them and get their perspective on how they went through whatever the experience was that they went through, like health problems with my mom and how do other people in AA handled that in a productive way that is healthy and hopeful to both the parent and my own mental health and sobriety. So, that’s one way that I think of it, or I phrase it that sometimes is helpful for other people is that I don’t ignore it. But I do let a different part of my brain work on it for a while and then I can go about my day and do different stuff instead of obsessing and circling.

21:36 John: Yeah, that’s true that I forgot, but you’re right. A lot of people think about step three as the letting go, I guess it’s letting go, letting God so that if you ever have a problem in your life, they do that, they say, “Well, step three is the answer. You have to let go and let God. Turn over to God whatever.” That is kind of interesting. I guess, like you, I can let go of something maybe. I don’t know. I don’t know if I really do let God. I guess that what I do, Angela, is like what you… I guess like what you were saying is I just deal with whatever it is. I think back to the most recent serious problem that I had just a couple years ago. I had a really bad time at work, and I could’ve lost my job performance-wise, it was just not going well. So, I kind of did the process of the steps with this situation, so I looked at… I didn’t just let go of the problem; I just didn’t let go of it. I kept it in my mind, but I looked at it and I acknowledged I had a problem. I wrote about it and I thought, “Okay, I can get myself out of this, I just need to figure out what’s going on.”

22:41 John: And so, I really tried to be honest about what was going on with me and while I could change. Of course, there were things that were going on that were out of my control that I thought maybe my employer didn’t assess me correctly here and there, but I just kind of pushed that stuff out of my mind and I just focused on all the things that I could change. So, when it really boils down to it, this isn’t really for me about letting go, but it’s really about making a decision to actually make some changes, so I need to know what I need to change. That’s what I did here. So, I wrote down all the things that I needed to do for my job, which was easy because they forced me to do that, I had to do that because it’s my job.


23:17 Angela: Right.

23:20 John: So, I did that, and I made a decision. Okay, I’m going to do this. These are the things I’m going to do, and I did it. If I would’ve just let go, I don’t know. I don’t think I can really do that.

23:29 Angela: Yeah. Well, no, I think some people can or at least they tell themselves that they are, but…

23:35 John: I guess, you don’t want to torture yourself and worry about things needlessly, but you see, if I’m doing something about it, I’m not worrying about it.

23:41 Angela: Right. Right. Yeah. Well, and I think it’s where you’re at in it. So, what tends to happen to me is, something will happen and then I will obsess about it and I’ll think of what I’m going to say and what the other person would say because it’s usually involving another person. And then I would say this and then they would say that, and then I’d have about three or four scenarios of how that conversation would go and what the outcomes would be, and then I just go over those over and over and over and over. And so, yeah, for me to learn when I was doing that, I would call my sponsor and say, “Hey, this is happening,” and she would talk me through what my scenarios were so that I’d get them out into somebody else’s ears and then she’d say, “Okay, well, you already know what you think the answer is. You’ve played out all these scenarios and so, why don’t you go and do something else for a while and come back to it after you’ve done some other productive things?” And so, that’s how I would do it for a while is, okay, I’m giving it over to that different part of the brain to work on while I get some other things done.

24:56 Angela: And then I come back to it and oftentimes, time, just letting it sit for a little while would give perspective. Something else would change, the other person would bring in some different information, that kind of thing. And so, it would all change. But what I used to do before I got sober was, that’s all I would do is sit and ruminate on it, and just drive myself crazy, and then go have a drink because that would calm that down and then I was brilliant for about 10 minutes, and when you get just that right place with drinking and all problems would be solved and then of course the next morning, there’s many more problems to work on. So yeah, that’s usually been my process.

25:44 John: When you think about it, the drinking was kind of a way of letting go, wasn’t it? 

25:47 Angela: Yeah. Oh, definitely. Yeah, definitely. And I think a lot of us, it’s part of the fuck its. Yeah, well, fuck it, I’m going to go have a drink or fuck it, this person is just a pain in the ass. And those haven’t been helpful to me, it’s how I felt both before and in early sobriety about a lot of things that I’m just going to, when I was learning to make boundaries and stuff, it was like either you were in or out, either you’re a part of my life or I cut you off, and you were either helpful or not. And I think that as time has gone on, I can see how different people are at different places in their lives, both with sobriety, mental health, age, whatever. I don’t throw people away anymore. There are some people that I have to create boundaries with and that maybe have just a few things in common with, but I don’t think that. I don’t have that black and white thinking anymore. So, part of, I guess, step three is opening up to just the different perspectives to remind myself that there are multiple perspectives on situations and that if I’m getting obsessive about something, then I probably need to look for where perspectives are.

27:16 Angela: And usually, when I’m sponsoring somebody and they’re going through something like this, my general suggestion is to go to a meeting first. And so even if it’s a meeting that they don’t like, generally, it gets them thinking about what they don’t like about the meeting. So that gives them some space to be away from whatever their problem is, it’s like, “Oh, this meeting’s awful. I don’t like this meeting.” And so, it takes them away a little bit from that obsession. But generally, if they go to a meeting, then it gives them perspective. Sometimes it’s that whatever it is that they’re obsessing on probably isn’t as big of a deal as they feel like it is at the moment, or it gives them perspective on other people talking about what their struggles are, and either how they’re similar or how they’re different, or sometimes it shows them that there’s somebody else that they can help and sometimes helping someone else will have an effect on whatever it is that they’re circling or struggling with.

28:19 Angela: So that one can be tough because I do think there are some people that are like, “I’m having a problem, get into service,” and then they don’t deal with their problem. So yeah, so there’s a fine line there, but I think for the most part, particularly early on, that it is more helpful to, at least for people within the secular community, to be able to shift from being obsessing about something to being of service and then it often will also give them some self-esteem to realize that whatever the hopeless problem is that they’re stuck on that, hey, they were able to help this other person in this way. So, there’s a possibility that they can actually work through whatever this dire situation is because it’s always dire in our minds, right? 

29:07 John: And that actually is useful, especially in the beginning stages when you still have all these problems that are playing out from your drinking that you have to deal with while you’re trying to get sober. That was the most challenging part for me was stopping drinking, is that I had a messed-up life and it was still going on, my messed-up life was still playing out while I was trying not to drink. So, I did go to a lot of meetings during that time because that was the only place where I felt like I would not drink basically.

29:34 Angela: Right. Right. Yeah, it was at a meeting that I don’t go to anymore, or I haven’t been to for quite a while, but when I got sober, it was near where I was working and so I used to go to it almost daily. And one of the old-timers there came up to me after the meeting recently and said, “Hey, I haven’t seen you in a long time. You used to come to this meeting a lot and actually I saw you all over the place,” and he is like, “You were really serious about your sobriety,” and I’m like, “Well, yes, but also I was probably just trying to get out of my brain because it was like one hour that my mind wasn’t racing.”

30:19 John: That’s true.

30:21 Angela: And I’m the type of person that really needed that. So yeah, the suggestion of looking for the similarities was really helpful to me too because it also kept me in the meeting and kept me listening to what people said instead of just thinking about what I would say about whatever the topic is. But yeah, I went to two, sometimes three meetings a day because I didn’t have much of a life is how I thought of it. So, I’m like, “Well, I might as well be at a meeting because my friends don’t talk to me anymore,” and that kind of thing. And it was helpful to me and I know that for a lot of people that that’s not a possibility. And I’ve talked to people who said that that was more difficult for them, that they developed more resentments going to meetings, particularly secularly-minded people, which is why I try to work hard to create a common language that can be used in meetings so that they can feel more of a part of and so that people in the meetings can start picking up on secular language to use, because a lot of people say, “Hey, I just use the word God because it’s easier,” and I say, “Well, easier for who?” So yeah, if you’re working the 12-step then you might be thinking about trying to use language that’s easier for the newcomer. And oftentimes, secular language really is a lot easier for most people. But yeah, I forgot where I was going with that. Let’s see… Secularly minded people.

31:57 John: Well I had a memory; I was writing something, and I had a memory of something that happened to me during my first month of sobriety. And during my first month of sobriety, it was a very difficult time because I had gotten arrested for DUI my third time, I lost my job, I had no money, I still had my apartment, they hadn’t thrown me out yet, I didn’t have to leave yet but I was worried about losing that. So, I had all these very serious problems and I went to four or five meetings a day because that’s all I could do, but I had this memory. I was writing a book review, actually, this is how it came to my mind. But I was at this meeting and it was a midnight meeting I think, and I was really frustrated because I had all these freaking problems and every single meeting I went to was talking about spiritual stuff and it just seemed so nebulous and not really dealing with my real problems, and I remember being frustrated at this meeting and I said something to the effect that I have real problems and I wish that we could talk about something real, you know? And this guy got really mad and he threw the 12 on 12 at me.

33:09 Angela: Wow.

33:09 John: Yeah. It went sliding across the table. He says, “This is your solution.”

33:13 Angela: Wow.

33:14 John: But the memory came back to me because it was like how easily I dismissed that, but that was the real me too. The real me didn’t want a spiritual solution. The real me wanted just to talk to someone normal and just have… Can you talk to me about my real problems and tell me how you got out of them? I didn’t want to have to sit there and talk about all this God stuff. But he threw the book at me, he told me that was the solution and, ultimately, I kind of fell in line, I guess. But I’m having these little memories come back, maybe I’m going through some PTSD or something, I don’t know.

33:46 Angela: It could be.

33:47 John: But yeah, that came to my mind and I don’t know. I’m sure that there are people that… I didn’t know what I was, I didn’t think I was an atheist or anything, but if I was doing that now, boy, I would have a really hard time in AA, I couldn’t take that. If someone did that to me, I probably wouldn’t come back to the meeting.

34:07 Angela: Yeah, yeah. No, I agree. I think at most of our meetings, at least around here, that seriousness of a thing doesn’t happen. I know there are some meetings where I could see that possibly happening but they’re more of back to basic type of things. But in general, at least here I feel like, yeah, that wouldn’t be okay. And that I think more people are going more towards the reality part of it, that… Well, and I think part of the step talks, at least me, about accepting reality as well. Let’s see, where is it? I think Joe has it in the Beyond Belief musings book. Let’s see, where is it? Oh, yeah, it’s for January 25th. His quote is from A New Guide to Rational Living by Albert Ellis and Robert Harbor and it says, “Like it or not, you better accept reality the way it occurs as highly imperfect and filled with most fallible human beings, your alternative continual anxiety and desperate disappointment.” And so yeah. And so, I think that’s much more in line of what we’re trying to do and get at, at least in AA these days, is working with reality.

35:30 Angela: And my home group is, particularly I feel like, good at that. We tend to really do practical things to help people in recovery and people get sober. And we talk about real things like the sugar when you’re detoxing and how, because people come in and, “This is happening, and this is happening, and I’m craving sugar all the time.” And I didn’t know when I quit drinking how much sugar alcohol had in it, particularly because I drank hard liquor. Yeah, I had no idea. And so, yeah, I was having withdrawals from sugar as well and so the Living Sober Book suggesting hard candies and things like that, we do all of that stuff. But I had the same experience you did of going to a meeting, and I think I shared it on one of these podcasts. And a guy was sharing about how he was resentful because this personal airplane wasn’t working and I was sitting there going, “I’m dying here, and you’re upset that your personal airplane isn’t working.”

36:38 John: Right.

36:41 Angela: And yeah, and over the years now I know what that is and can translate. I’d share that with my sweetie, and we consider it the luxury problem-type thing.

36:53 John: Right.

36:53 Angela: And so, when I’m whining about something that really isn’t a big deal, he’ll ask me how my personal airplane is running, and every once in a while it does not go down well but most of the time I have a sense of humor about it. He’s learned to tread lightly on that. Another thing I wanted to talk about with step three, and I think we’ve had some feedback about this, is the language change, because some people in AA don’t like it when we change the step in the language. And particularly this one, there’s no way you can’t, if you’re secular, change the language, it has to be changed. And so I did want to give the resource for people out there that are still working within traditional AA but struggling with it, if they’re confronted with it, and I think I got this from Joe too, was that from Alcoholics Anonymous Comes of Age, I think at page 81, where Bill is writing that to some of us the idea of substituting good for God in the 12 steps will seem like watering down of AA’s message. But here we must remember that AA steps are suggestions only. A belief in them as they stand is not at all a requirement for a membership among us. The liberty has made, or this liberty has made AA available to thousands who would never have tried it at all had we insisted the 12 steps just as written.

38:27 Angela: And in that I believe he was talking about when the Buddhists announced that they wanted to be a part of AA, but they would be replacing the word God with good, and so that was the response to it. And we seem to have gotten away from that idea, that we can change the wording for them to work them and that you really don’t have to work them at all. They are suggestions. So yeah, so I wanted to put that out there because I do have people that have contacted me to get feedback from people in the traditional groups that you have to do them as written and have like you were shown the book thrown at you, this is… You have to do them as written from the book and blah, blah, blah, and it’s like, “Oh, no. One of the founders. Here’s a quote, he said that you do not have to.”

39:26 Angela: And so yeah, so that’s a resource for people who are looking at it. And I’m not sure where all of this insistence on doing it as written from the book came along. I know the back to basics, but I got a document a little while ago, and I don’t know if I passed it on to you or if you’ve already read it. The one that the minority report to Alcoholics Anonymous General Services, the Great Britain one on the Synanon cult influence to Alcoholics Anonymous? And so, I think that’s where it came from. And I tried to share this a little bit within the rooms, but I find most people really don’t know much about AA history. I didn’t really learn much. I’m still learning as I go along and really didn’t care at first how it applied, except now that I’m like, “Wait, there’s more secular stuff in here and more atheist history to AA than I knew about,” and so now I’m much more interested in it so that I can share it with other people and help them to move along, move this banner to more secular AA than it has been.

40:39 Angela: And I do think that’s working. I talked to several people this last week that are starting to look at the way that they do a program and the way they talk about program in AA, and they are people who are… I don’t know if I’d say God people but they do have a higher power that’s much more similar to what is considered normal within the rooms, and they’re really thinking about, “Wait, why are we ending things with the Lord’s Prayer? That doesn’t seem helpful. We say that we’re not a religion or we’re not associated with any religion and then we end with the Lord’s Prayer. What’s that about?” And to those of us who are secular, we’re like, “Yeah, duh, we’ve been trying to point that out.” But I think that, yeah, talking about it… It’s making me think of like an afterschool special to all the secular people. This is how you should talk to your AA friends about; you know? 

41:37 John: Right.

41:38 Angela: Yeah, like it’s a public service announcement. But it really does seem to be happening at least around here that people are like, “Oh, yeah, I believe in God and may even be Christian, but this is what AA is supposed to do, that it’s supposed to not be a religion so yeah.

41:55 John: Things are changing. I do see that. I do see things changing. I think some of that rigidity probably happened in the late ’80s and the 1990s. I’m learning now from what I’m reading online that there’s a lot of people to this day who worship the Joe and Charlie faith. Yeah, and I remember those guys when they were alive, and I listened to them talk and who knew that they were going to become this phenomenal cult following or whatever. But people really are listening to them like, “Oh, these guys make sense and you do this this way, blah, blah, blah, blah.” And I think that that was part of it, and some of that still exists, but you’re right, things are changing.

42:35 John: Recently I was contacted by somebody in Wichita and this really blew me away. His district accessibility committee is interested in starting a secularly formatted AA meeting because they see the religious part and nature of AA as an obstacle keeping people out. It’s an accessibility issue. I find that so interesting that a district is wanting to have a secular meeting because they want to reach out to people for whom AA isn’t accessible because of the Lord’s Prayer.

43:13 Angela: Right. I think that’s great.

43:15 John: Isn’t that interesting? 

43:15 Angela: Yeah. I think that’s…

43:17 John: Yeah. And that’s happening at Wichita, Kansas.

43:19 Angela: Of all places.

43:22 John: Yeah. So, anyway, that guy is going to come up to our party next week.

43:26 Angela: Nice.

43:27 John: It’ll be interesting to see what’s going on.

43:28 Angela: No, I think that’s great. Yeah, and I hope you guys ask him a lot about that because that’s something that hopefully we can pass on to other people in other places because that might be that they’re out that’s best for them. I know that in Connecticut that there’s some people that are working with their district too. Right now, they have an ad hoc committee that their DCM put into place for a secular committee, and that they’re trying to make it their own committee like H&I and things like that, and when they do have it as a committee, then they have representation, they have a voice as a secular committee, and then they also have a budget which is kind of a big deal so that they can print material and take things to meetings and drop them off and circulate the good news of secular AA. Yeah, so that’s another direction. And I think the more that people share what they’re doing and what’s working in their area, the better because maybe the subcommittee would be good in my area or maybe doing it as a… Like what they’re doing in Wichita, with the accessibility, that might work better in my area but have knowing all the different ways that people are reaching out and making a difference is, it’s pretty helpful, I think.

44:55 John: So, it’s going to be interesting to see. Part of me is worried about this. These regular AA people are going to start a secular AA meeting that it’s like they’re going to mess it up one way or another. They’re not. They’re going to be fine.


45:07 Angela: Well, there’s a lot of people that think that you and I are messing things up just by talking about this.

45:12 John: Right. Right. That’s true too. That’s true too.

45:15 Angela: I’m pretty sure that it’ll be okay. As my service sponsor says, I’m not going to be able to break AA, it’s highly unlikely.

45:22 John: No.

45:23 Angela: So, it’s going to evolve in different ways, and right now I’m trying to help it evolve in a way that I think is most helpful for society, but who knows what direction it’s going to go? 

45:35 John: So, you’re going to be going down to the conference in Arizona? 

45:38 Angela: Yes, I’m so excited about that. I wasn’t sure if I’d be able to go, but yeah, I already have the plane tickets so I’m excited about that. I haven’t been able to go to a one-day conference in a while, and so yeah, so it’s going to be cool.

45:52 John: You’ll like it. I went to that one in Hamilton and just had a really great time. And it’s nice to have something that’s in a smaller, more intimate venue.

46:01 Angela: Right.

46:01 John: And where you can really have more of an opportunity to talk to people and meet people, and it’s just, I don’t know, it’s just a little bit different than the big huge convention with hundreds of people in a hotel.

46:10 Angela: Right. Right. Yeah, I’m looking forward to it.

46:14 John: I hope they have some good recordings of it. I’m obsessed about getting recordings of things.

46:17 Angela: Yes. Well, I’ll do my best. I know that… Yeah, if there’s podiums involved and people are okay with it, I’ll put my phone there because my phone is what recorded my story from December. Yeah, and it was just a regular phone recording, but it was set by the podium so I think we can do it, so we’ll see.

46:37 John: Absolutely. And John H actually did the same thing. He recorded his talk in Olympia or wherever, in Washington. I don’t think it was Olympia that one was, it was somewhere else over there. But anyway, he recorded it with just his iPhone and man, the quality was excellent.

46:50 Angela: Yeah. Well, there’s a thing that I posted, I think it’s on the secular AA website that’s kind of what program I use, what app I use on my phone and then what settings I have it on to make it have better quality. I was using the free one, so you don’t have to pay for the app, unless you want to upgrade it.

47:12 John: You know what, I need to copy that. I need to copy that and make it an article on AA Beyond Belief.

47:17 Angela: Yeah, that’d be great. Yeah, totally.

47:18 John: because I think that’s good for people to know how to do. I like Kevin, I think it’s great having the recordings of these things.

47:24 Angela: Yeah, and just to have the variety because somebody might not be able to relate to my story, but they can relate to somebody else. And yeah, the more we have, I think the better. But then again, I’ve always been more is better, which is why I’m in AA. [laughter]

47:39 John: Right, right. Yeah. But now we’ve done a pretty good job of getting stuff out there for people to find. It’s pretty interesting. When I was in Hamilton, I got to meet some people who listened to the podcast. I hear from people, it’s just, it’s really amazing when you think about, Angela, how this podcast can reach people from all over the place, but you wouldn’t even imagine.

48:01 Angela: Right. Yeah.

48:03 John: There was somebody in Scotland who listened to that podcast that you recorded about when you were speaking at that group somewhere.  And he said that was like, it was a huge shift for him to finally hear somebody talk about the steps in a way that he can actually appreciate them and understand them. It made a huge difference for that guy, and so it was really important. It’s just, you never know. You never know who’s going to pick up on something like this and what it’s going to do for them.

48:32 Angela: Yup, that’s why we’re doing it. I would have loved to hear somebody with my story when I got in the room. The closest I could come was somebody who is Buddhist, it still wasn’t my story but at least we spoke the same language or a similar language. Yeah, I’m really happy to hear that it’s making a difference for people and hopefully they’ll get sober and be able to do the same. That’s what it’s all about, right? 

49:00 John: Yep. So, do you think we did a pretty good job of covering step three? 

49:03 Angela: I think so. I can’t think of anything else at the moment. Of course, whenever we end the podcast an hour later something will come up in my head like, “Oh, you should have mentioned that.” But yeah, I think we did.

49:17 John: I think it’s ultimately a decision. I think it’s a decision to start and actually, it’s a decision to get into reality because your decision is to move to the next step, step four. And that’s where you’re really looking at the truth, you’re really looking at, objectively, what you’re doing. So, it’s not a step about… It’s not necessarily a mystical step where God takes everything, it’s a step where you start doing things to learn about yourself, learning about what you might want to change. And I wouldn’t say that you have to tear yourself down to build yourself up. I think that you’re probably already torn down if you’re finding yourself in an AA meeting for a long time in your life.

49:51 Angela: Right. Right. Yeah.

49:54 John: And from there it’s all… Yes, so it’s…

49:57 Angela: Well, and again, you know, the way that I think about it and think about step four, as we’ll talk about is, is that none of the stuff that I thought of as negative and stuff, I don’t think of it that way, I don’t think of character defects. I can use the terminology because that’s what people in the rooms do but I think of them all as tools and resources, and that they’re appropriate in certain situations. Still are, and they always have been. So, it’s just learning what the situations are and what might be better tools and stuff and so, yeah, so I agree, I think step three is about the decision to go forward with that kind of like the figurative come to Jesus thing, or like, “Okay, we’re going to do this.” You know? [laughter]

50:45 John: Right.

50:46 Angela: So yeah, for me, I think that’s a healthier direction of looking at step three. But if you’re working with a sponsor that is much more traditional, hopefully our discussion has also given you some ideas and ways to think about it so that you can continue to work steps and feel like you’re a part of because I think that’s a big part of early sobriety, too, is starting to feel like you’re a part of something, having a community and for a lot of people that there isn’t a secular community that they can go to, and so hopefully this gives those people some options as well.

51:23 John: Well, the interesting we go through step four because I think that that was a helpful step for me, but I could also see how that you do need some precautions there too. You have to be careful with that.

51:33 Angela: Yes. Yes.

51:35 John: That’ll be interesting to talk about.

51:37 Angela: Yep, I’m looking forward to it.


51:47 John: And that’s another episode of AA Beyond Belief. Thank you so much for listening.

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52:24 John: Thanks again for listening. We’ll be back again real soon with another episode of AA Beyond Belief, the podcast.